Nona Gaprindashvili – a Georgian chess master who rose to prominence as a chess player in the Soviet Union in the 1960s – took issue with a line in an episode of the Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit, in which a character falsely stated that she had never competed against men, and sued Netflix for defamation in federal court last September.
She argued that the line was grossly sexist and belittling, noting that she had faced 59 male competitors by 1968, the year in which the series was set. Netflix sought to have the suit dismissed, arguing that the show is a work of fiction and that the First Amendment gives show creators broad artistic license.
However, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips refused to dismiss the lawsuit as she found that Gaprindashvili had made a plausible argument during a ruling on Thursday, holding that works of fiction are not immune from defamation suits if they disparage real people.
Netflix argued that it had relied on two chess experts to get the details right and that the show creators meant no offence to Gaprindashvili.
In Phillips’ ruling, she noted that the show’s theme involves breaking gender barriers, but she said that the show could be seen as building up the achievement of the fictional Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) by dismissing those of the real-life Gaprindashvili.
Netflix also noted that the show featured a standard disclaimer, but the judge ruled that was not enough to dispel the notion that the show was asserting a factual claim.
Netflix has declined to comment on the ruling.