On Monday video streaming platform Netflix countered arguments that it defamed Nona Gaprindashvili, an elite chess competitor, in a one line utterance spoken during its 2020 award-winning fictional series “The Queen’s Gambit.” Netflix Inc. defends on grounds that California’s anti-SLAPP statute bars the plaintiff’s claims because they chill the exercise of free speech. In the alternative, Netflix says they should be dismissed for failure to state a claim.
The motion recounts the scene where the allegedly defamatory statement took place: the fictional 1968 “Moscow Invitational,” where the protagonist, Elizabeth Harmon, plays in a chess tournament against some of the world’s best. The announcer references that Harmon’s opponents might be familiar with Gaprindashvili, but that “she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”
Gaprindashvili’s first amended complaint alleges that by falsely stating that she had not competed against men, Netflix insinuated that she lacked the skills to successfully compete against men and thus committed false light invasion of privacy and defamation per se. She seeks damages of over $5 million.
Netflix defends that the plaintiff’s claims should be stricken because they “arise directly from Netflix’s exercise of its constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue.” The company first asserts that its original series is a fictional work that a reasonable viewer would not understand to be objective fact. Netflix notes that real people portrayed in television shows do not have the legal right to dictate or control how they are depicted.
Next, the defendant argues that a reasonable viewer would not conclude that Gaprindashvili was inferior to her male counterparts given the context of the utterance and the tone of the series overall. In addition, even if the line implied that the plaintiff was less good than male players, such a suggestion represents a non-actionable statement of opinion that is not provably false, Netflix contends.
The motion also alleges that the purportedly defamatory statement does not constitute defamation per se, and Gaprindashvili cannot meet the special damages element of a defamation per quod claim. The defendant further asserts that the gist of the line is in large part true, and that plaintiff cannot prove actual malice by the requisite clear and convincing evidentiary standard.