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Nona Gaprindashvili, the world’s first female chess grandmaster, is suing Netflix over its inaccurate portrayal of her competitive career in the critically acclaimed series “The Queen’s Gambit.”
In the final episode of “The Queen’s Gambit,” which won two Golden Globes earlier this year and took home 11 Emmys on Sunday night, a tournament announcer says of Gaprindashvili: “She’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”
In reality, the now-80-year-old from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia had faced 59 men by 1968, when the episode is set to have aired, including, as the lawsuit states, “28 of them simultaneously in one game” and “at least ten Grandmasters of that time.” Gaprindashvili competed at a time when Soviet states and Western capitalist nations alike were redefining a woman’s place in society.
“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,” states the lawsuit, which was filed last week in Los Angeles Federal District Court. “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 also alleges that the chess legend confronted Netflix on the error, demanding “a public statement acknowledging the falsity of the statement, an apology, and a retraction,” but the production company dismissed her accusations by “claiming that the false statement was ‘innocuous.’”
In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, Netflix says that it “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.”
This case may seem astounding, but it is hardly unusual. The entertainment industry often shades the truth or even fully falsifies facts to amp-up the entertainment value of its products or to further a desired narrative. They call it “artistic” or “creative” license, but a better phrase for it would be “bearing false witness” or “straight-up lying.”
In this case, Gaprindashvili is courageous enough to take on a media giant for the purpose of setting the record straight and defending her own good name. She is clearly an admirable woman and person in general, and yet despite her being alive today to tell her own story and her life being very well-documented to anyone seeking to accurately portray women’s chess in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, Netflix felt inclined to completely fabricate a pertinent aspect of her career to bolster the drama of its own fictional female chess hero.
Although the series is no doubt meant to uplift women who break gender barriers, instead, it presented a falsehood about a woman who actually smashed through those gender barriers.
Downplaying an impressive aspect of Gaprindashvili’s career is, as her lawsuit stated, extraordinarily sexist in itself.
So too is refusing to heed her request to issue an apology, as Netflix appears to prefer, perhaps, sticking with the strength of their fabricated fictional narrative of a female Soviet chess champion over respecting a real live female Soviet chess champion.
What’s painfully ironic is that this is likely being done for the sake of being perceived as challenging sexism, when, in fact, Gaprindashvili actually challenged that sexism at a time when it took real courage — not today’s cheap virtue signaling — to do so.
Netflix won awards by revising a champion’s record and reputation to achieve its own self-serving ends. How Soviet-like. What a disgrace.