Netflix Is Being Sued Because Of One Their Most Popular Shows

By Nathan Kamal | 4 months ago

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A judge has ruled that Netflix can be sued due to the content of one of their most viewed original series. Chess Grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili has filed a lawsuit against the streaming platform, alleging defamation of character. Gaprindashvili was specifically mentioned in Netflix’s hit 2020 series The Queen’s Gambit, a fictional series that incorporated real-life elements and people into its storyline. The series follows a chess prodigy named Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who struggles with substance abuse, mental health and the rigid sexism of the international professional chess circuit of the 1960s. At one point, Gaprindashvili was referred to in the show as never having played competitive chess against men, which is entirely factually false. 

netflix queen's gambit
Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen’s Gambit

That is the crux of Nona Gaprindashvili’s case for Netflix being sued. In addition to referring to the real life chess legend as a Russian rather than her actual nationality of Georgian; for context, the nations of Russia and Georgia have been at war as recently as 2008. While that might be considered the insult, the injury the lawsuit claims Netflix committed was to allegedly defame Gaprindashvili. The Queen’s Gambit essentially tried to portray the fictional character of Beth Harmon as a groundbreaking pioneer, and Gaprindashvili’s suit argues they did so at the expense of an actual groundbreaking pioneer. By the series’ setting of 1968, Gaprindashvili had faced 59 men in competition. She describes Netflix as being “grossly sexist and belittling,” and seeks damages of $5 million. 

Defamation cases are historically slippery, and have become moreso in the United States than perhaps ever before. Netflix is being sued for allegedly damaging the reputation of a living person, and their primary defense has been that their production is a work of fiction. The Queen’s Gambit is based on a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, and the show was further developed by writers Scott Frank and Allan Frank. Netflix’s argument to dismiss that case was essentially that because the show centers a fictional character, defamation could not have occurred. However, District Judge Virginia A. Phillips disagreed, stating that there is no precedent to bolster the claim that fictional portrayals of real individuals are exempt from defamation claims. That does not actually mean that Netflix has lost their case or that they cannot still use the same basic argument in court. It does mean essentially that the lawsuit can legally move forward, and that until a precedent is made to show otherwise, defamation in fiction has the same standing as in reality. 

Netflix being sued may set powerful precedents for such cases for the future, so the outcome of this lawsuit will be interesting to watch. It also may potentially impact any future plans for a Queen’s Gambit season two, which Anya Taylor-Joy has expressed interest in. Of course, there are also rumors swirling that she may be being courted by Sony Pictures for a role as the comic book character Black Cat, part of Sony’s ceaseless quest to utilize all Spider-Man related properties. Taylor-Joy is also slated to portray a younger version of Mad Max’s Furiosa in an upcoming George Miller movie, taking over for Charlize Theron.