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Netflix’s stock is rising again after a rough week, but the streamer took a hit Thursday in court over The Queen’s Gambit.
A federal judge denied the streamer’s desire to see dismissed Soviet chess icon Nona Gaprindashvili’s $5 million seeking complaint of sexism and historical inaccuracy against the multiple Emmy-winning limited series.
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“Netflix does not cite, and the Court is not aware, of any cases precluding defamation claims for the portrayal of real persons in otherwise fictional works,” wrote U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips in a ruling revealed today (read it here). “The fact that the Series was a fictional work does not insulate Netflix from liability for defamation if all the elements of defamation are otherwise present.”
Smashing through gender barriers at the highest level of chess back in the 1960s, Georgia-born (country, not the U.S. state) Gaprindashvili has objected to a line in the limited series’ final episode, “End Game,” that put her real-life accomplishments up against Anya Taylor-Joy’s fictional prodigy Beth Harmon. “The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia,” a commentator says as Harmon plays in a stress-fueled match in 1968 Moscow against a male challenger. “There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men,” the Scott Frank and Allan Scott series based on Walter Tevi’s 1983 novel quips.
A throwaway line to some, but one that’s distinctly not true.
“The allegation that Gaprindashvili ‘has never faced men’ is manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling,” the chess legend’s defamation complaint from September 2021 said.
“By 1968, the year in which this episode is set, she had competed against at least 59 male chess players (28 of them simultaneously in one game), including at least ten Grandmasters of that time, including Dragolyub Velimirovich, Svetozar Gligoric, Paul Keres, Bojan Kurajica, Boris Spassky, Viswanathan Anand and Mikhail Tal. The last three were also world champions during their careers.”
Pulling from FX and Ryan Murphy’s successful artistic license and freedom rebuttal of the late great Olivia de Haviland’s ire of her portrayal in Feud a few years back and with some anti-SLAPP flags of their own, Netflix tried to argue that a minor inaccuracy was committed at best. They also advocated that the gist of the series from was a feminist narrative. Plus, just to have their chess and play it to, the streamer went on to say the Gaprindashvili line shouldn’t matter because Queen’s Gambit had a disclaimer and “is an entirely fictional work,” even though it mentions real people like the plaintiff player and real-life Cold War-era events.
Putting the streamer in the position of a bad bishop, the judge said nyet.
“Despite the presence of fiction surrounding the Line, however, the Court cannot ignore that the Series does reference real people and events and most importantly, the Line identifies a real person, Plaintiff, by name, references her real career, and then shows an actor sitting in the audience who resembles Plaintiff,” she wrote today.
“Not only does this close the gap between associating the supposedly fictional character with the real person, but regardless of whether viewers recognized Plaintiff’s name (as indeed, some did), viewers may reasonably have believed the comment to be one of these historical details incorporated into the Series,” Phillips concluded.
Gaprindashvili has requested a jury trial and that’s where this could all end up. However, thought the streamer had no comment on today’s ruling, don’t be surprised if Netflix eventually resigns the game, so to speak, and settle.
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