Netflix is discovering that sloppy dialogue in its fictional shows can have serious consequences. Its attempt to have a recent defamation suit dismissed was denied, which means it will have to face the plaintiff, Georgian chess legend Nona Gaprindashvili, in court.
Gaprindashvili filed a lawsuit against Netflix in September, accusing the company of defamation and “false light invasion of privacy.” Gaprindashvili was mentioned in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, a period drama about a chess prodigy, as the world’s first female grandmaster.
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A radio commentator says in passing during a chess match in one scene “Her sex is the only thing that distinguishes her. Even so, this is not unusual in Russia. Nona Gaprindashvili exists, but she is the female world champion and has never faced a man.”
The suit claims that not only is the claim that Gaprindashvili had not faced men at the time “manifestly false,” but it is also “grossly sexist and belittling.”
“By 1968, the year in which this episode is set,” it says, “she had competed against at least 59 male chess players (28 of them simultaneously in one game), including at least ten Grandmasters of the time.”
The show is based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel, which also mentions Gaprindashvili. However, the section on which Netflix appears to have based this particular section of its script says, “Her sex was the only thing that set her apart, and even that wasn’t unusual in Russia.
“Nona Gaprindashvili was there, not quite at the level of this tournament, but a player who had met all of these Russian Grandmasters before.” Netflix’s version is unmistakably different.
The show is based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel, which also mentions Gaprindashvili. The section on which Netflix appears to have based this particular section of its script reads, “Her sex was the only thing that set her apart, and even that wasn’t unusual in Russia.
Nona Gaprindashvili was there, not quite at the level of this tournament, but a player who had met all of these Russian Grandmasters before.” Netflix’s version is unmistakably different.
In November, the streaming service filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that “the Series is a fictional work that a reasonable viewer would not construe as conveying fact.” Furthermore, it stated that “a reasonable viewer would not draw the negative implication that Plaintiff alleges.”
The motion was denied today by US District Judge Virginia Philips, who wrote that “the fact that the Series was a fictional work does not insulate Netflix from liability for defamation if all of the elements of defamation are otherwise present.”
The ruling also states that “at the very least, the line is dismissive of Plaintiff’s central accomplishments.” It also notes that when Netflix filed its motion to dismiss, “Netflix’s own evidence demonstrates knowledge of the truth in its choice to deviate from the text of the Novel, which states that Plaintiff had faced the male Russian Grandmasters’many times before.'”
Gaprindashvili is suing Netflix for $5 million in damages and to have the statement that she never played men removed from the show.