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Former Soviet chess master sues Netflix over 'sexist' line in 'Queen's Gambit'

Nona Gaprindashvili sued the streaming giant for $5 million over a line in the popular fictional series that claimed she "never faced men."
Image: Chess Champion Nona Gaprindashvili
Georgian chess player and women's world chess champion, Nona Gaprindashvili, plays a game of chess at the International Chess Congress in London on Dec. 30, 1964.Stanley Sherman / Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images file

A former Soviet chess master is suing Netflix over a line in last year's popular series "The Queen's Gambit," in which fictional characters claimed that this real-life female chess master "never faced men."

The $5 million defamation lawsuit was filed in the Central District of California on Thursday by Nona Gaprindashvili, chess master from Georgia who became a champion under the former Soviet Union.

Gaprindashvili, 80, alleges that the main character in "Queen's Gambit" — Elizabeth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy — is a rough approximation of her, and that the line referring to Gaprindashvili's real-life success is "manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling."

The line in question comes in the series finale, when one character contemplates how Harmon has just defeated a male chess master in Moscow:

"Elizabeth Harmon’s not at all an important player by their standards. The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men. My guess is Laev was expecting an easy win, and not at all the 27-move thrashing Beth Harmon just gave him.”

Gaprindashvili's lawsuit says the fictional line about an actual person is demonstrably false.

"By 1968, the year in which this episode is 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," the lawsuit states.

"The Queen's Gambit" — released in 2020 and based on a 1983 novel of the same name, about an American woman who overcomes the odds to become a champion in the male-dominated chess world of the '50s and '60s — garnered 18 Emmy nominations for Netflix, including outstanding limited series and best lead actress for star Taylor-Joy.

Gaprindashvili is considered a chess pioneer, becoming the first woman to be awarded the title of Grandmaster by the International Chess Federation in 1978, according to the World Chess Hall of Fame. Among her many accolades, she has won the Women’s World Championship five times and Women’s Soviet Chess Championship five times.

In a statement to NBC News on Thursday, a spokesperson for the streaming giant said, "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."