Netflix lost a bid on Thursday to toss out a $5 million defamation lawsuit against its hit show The Queen’s Gambit that alleges instances of sexism and inaccuracies within the series.
U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips of California denied a motion from the streaming giant to dismiss the case, stating that the plaintiff had presented evidence that would “defeat Netflix‘s defense of substantial truth.”
The Queen’s Gambit, based on the 1983 novel of the same name, was a 2020 miniseries chronicling the life of fictional chess prodigy Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. The show became, at the time, Netflix’s most-watched limited series and was critically acclaimed, winning 11 Primetime Emmy Awards.
However, one person who was not happy with the show was real-life chess icon Nona Gaprindashvili, the plaintiff in the case against Netflix. Gaprindashvili first filed a defamation lawsuit this past September, arguing that The Queen’s Gambit had misrepresented her achievements in the world of chess.
The lawsuit revolves, for the most part, around a line of dialogue that appears within the show’s final episode. The scene involves a commentator equating Beth Harmon’s fictional victories to Gaprindashvili’s real-life chess accomplishments.
“The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia,” the line of dialogue states. “There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”
This statement, the lawsuit alleges, inaccurately depicts the actual events of Gaprindashvili’s chess career.
“The allegation that Gaprindashvili ‘has never faced men’ is manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling,” the lawsuit states. “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.”
Gaprindashvili herself said that the line “misrepresented one of her most significant career achievements,” with lawyers adding that she continues to participate in chess tournaments even today.
Attorneys for Netflix argued that the creative freedom surrounding a fictional character protected them from defamation lawsuits. The streaming giant claimed that “no reasonable viewer would have understood the line to convey a statement of fact because the series is an entirely fictional work.”
“Fictional works have no obligation to the truth,” Netflix added.
However, this argument did not stand in court, as it was decided that there was no precedent that would protect the streaming giant from defamation claims from real people, even when it comes to a fictional story.
“Netflix does not cite, and the Court is not aware, of any cases precluding defamation claims for the portrayal of real persons in otherwise fictional works,” Phillips wrote. “The 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.”
“Despite the presence of fiction surrounding the line, however, the Court cannot ignore that the series does reference real people and events,” Phillips continued. “Most importantly, the line identifies a real person, [Gaprindashvili], by name, references her real career, and then shows an actor sitting in the audience who resembles [Gaprindashvili].”
Gaprindashvili has requested a trial by jury as the lawsuit continues to make its way through the court system.
Newsweek has reached out to Netflix for comment.