Soviet chess legend sues Netflix for 'sexist' line in Queen's Gambit

Nona Gaprindashvili was described in the show's last episode as a female champion who had "never faced men".
Nona Gaprindashvili was described in the show's last episode as a female champion who had "never faced men".PHOTO: REUTERS

TBILISI (REUTERS, NYTIMES) - The world's first female chess grandmaster, Nona Gaprindashvili, has filed a US$5 million (S$6.7 million) defamation lawsuit against Netflix over a line in its The Queen's Gambit series (2020) which her lawyers say is false and sexist.

The 80-year old Soviet chess icon, a hero in her native South Caucasus Republic of Georgia, was described in the show's last episode as a female champion who had "never faced men".

The suit filed on Gaprindashvili's behalf in a United States federal court in Los Angeles said the reference to her was "degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions".

The legal papers seen by Reuters said the five-times world champion was "the first woman in history to achieve the status of international chess grandmaster among men".

She had played against at least 59 male chess players by 1968, the year in which the episode was set, according to the legal papers.

Netflix said that it greatly respected Gaprindashvili but that it believed her claim was without merit.

"Netflix has only the utmost respect for Ms Gaprindashvili and her illustrious career, but we believe this claim has no merit and will vigorously defend the case," the company said in a statement.

The Queen's Gambit, based on a 1983 novel by late author Walter Tevis, tells the story of young orphan Beth Harmon who becomes the world's best chess player in the Cold War era.

Harmon, who is played by actress Anya Taylor-Joy, is described by Netflix as someone "determined to conquer the traditional boundaries established in the male-dominated world of competitive chess."

The series won two Golden Globes this year and has garnered 18 Emmy Awards and nominations; there are plans for it to be adapted into a stage musical.

And, just as Gaprindashvili has been doing for years through her game play and example, the series has inspired more women to take up chess while also renewing concerns about sexism in the game.

Gaprindashvili's lawyers say the series, released in October 2020, caused her professional harm and want the line about her never facing men removed, calling it "grossly sexist and belittling".


The Queen's Gambit tells the story of young orphan Beth Harmon who becomes the world's best chess player in the Cold War era. PHOTO: NETFLIX

The lawsuit accuses the series of continuing to cause Gaprindashvili, who competes in senior chess tournaments, "irreparable damage".

Netflix, headquartered in California, hired Russian former world champion Garry Kasparov and American national master Bruce Pandolfini as their consultants.