Netflix denied motion to dismiss lawsuit by Georgian chess legend Nona Gaprindashvili

A still from 'The Queen's Gambit', a popular TV series the lawsuit refers to an episode of. Photo: Phil Bray/Netflix., 28 Jan 2022 - 13:47, Tbilisi,Georgia

Netflix has been denied its motion to have the lawsuit against the company by Georgian chess legend Nona Gaprindashvili dismissed, as a California Central District Court judge said on Thursday the case could continue.

Presiding judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled there had been no evidence to warrant preclusion of "defamation claims for the portrayal of real persons in otherwise fictional works" from the lawsuit, thus denying the streaming giant its motion.

Netflix had argued the reference to Gaprindashvili in an episode of The Queen's Gambit television series, which Gaprindashvili's team is arguing has damaged the five-time World Champion's name through misrepresentation, could not be understood as a factual statement by any "reasonable viewer".

“[T]he 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”

- court documents in the case of Nona Gaprindashvili v. Netflix, Inc., et al

The company's lawyers had additionally claimed understanding implications of the alleged defamatory episode would require "knowledge of competitive Soviet chess in the 1960s" by viewers.

The two arguments have now been dismissed by the judge, paving the way for a continuation of the lawsuit in the court.

The lawsuit focuses around a narrator's description of Gaprindashvili in one of the episodes of the popular series, where she is mentioned as having "never faced men" in her chess matches - a statement called "manifestly false" by the legal team of the legendary player.

The papers for the suit note "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".

The lawsuit goes on to allege Netflix had been aware of these facts from Gaprindashvili's legendary career, not least from the novel the series is based on. The line from the episode is called "grossly sexist and belittling". The team of lawyers has also alleged "additional insult to injury" in the series through its reference to the Georgian champion as Russian.

In September, Netflix refused to remove the disputed reference from the series, informing Gaprindashvili's representatives the company would not apologise for the selection of the description either.

A spokesperson for Netflix was quoted saying the company had "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."