"The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia," an announcer of a chess tournament in the show’s finale episode says, as the camera pans to a woman watching the match. "There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men."
The real Gaprindashvili, an 80-year-old woman from the former Soviet republic Georgia, was the first woman to be named a grandmaster, and she did compete against dozens of men throughout her career.
In fact, by 1968, the year the fictional episode was set, Gaprindashvili had "competed against at least 59 male chess players (28 of them simultaneously in one game), including at least ten Grandmasters of that time," according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Federal District Court in Los Angeles.
Gaprindashvili’s suit says the line was a "devastating falsehood, undermining and degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions."
"Netflix brazenly and deliberately lied about Gaprindashvili’s achievements for the cheap and cynical purpose of ‘heightening the drama’ by making it appear that its fictional hero had managed to do what no other woman, including Gaprindashvili, had done," it goes on.
"Thus, in a story that was supposed to inspire women by showing a young woman competing with men at the highest levels of world chess, Netflix humiliated the one real woman trail blazer who had actually faced and defeated men on the world stage in the same era."
The suit seeks at least $5 million in damages for defamation and "false light invasion of privacy," as well as an additional $75,000 for lost business opportunities.
Gaprindashvili, who served multiple times in the Georgian parliament during the Soviet years, also alleged that she "confronted" Netflix after the series aired and "demanded a public statement acknowledging the falsity of the statement, an apology, and a retraction."
Netflix responded with "extraordinary hubris," Gaprindashvili says in her suit, "dismissing [her] assertion of defamation by claiming that the false statement was ‘innocuous.'"
"This arrogant refusal to take responsibility for its actions was shockingly tone-deaf, given the sexism and offensiveness of its lie," the suit goes on.
"The Queen’s Gambit" won two Golden Globes earlier this year and it has garnered 18 Emmy nominations. It was so successful that there are now plans to turn it into a stage musical.
The show is based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, but the book, according to the suit, only said of Gaprindashvili that she has "met all these Russian Grandmasters many times before."
"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," Netflix said in a statement to the Daily Beast.
This story first appeared in the New York Post