What “The Queen’s Gambit” Gets Right About Adoption

Michele Merritt
10 min readNov 16, 2020

Being a child prodigy is not all fun and games. Neither is being an adoptee.

**Spoiler alerts for those who have not seen the series**

After watching the Netflix drama mini-series, The Queen’s Gambit, I was struck by so much. The set design, the makeup and costumes, the characters, and of course, the chess. As a woman, I was in awe of the lead character, Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. As much as I love chess, I was never trained to play as a child, partly because my family just didn’t play chess, but also, girls are far less likely to be introduced to the game, let alone encouraged to become great at it. To see a woman depicted not only as highly skilled, but dominating the male competition, is the kind of representation I am 100% here for.

Female empowerment is what most critics have focused on when they discuss the series, and of course, many chess players have weighed in on the accuracy of the games depicted. As Jennifer Shahade, two-time U.S. Chess Champion notes, she was not expecting complete accuracy and was more interested in the effect the show might have — namely, drawing more women and girls to chess, which so far, seems to be happening. However, as she notes, since Garry Kasparov and Bruce Pandolfini were asked to consult on the series, it turned out to be extremely realistic.

Another thing the series depicted accurately that I have yet to see discussed is adoption. Not because it portrayed adoption as a wonderful solution to a supposed social dilemma, nor because it celebrated adoptive families as unique and wonderful. Quite the contrary. The Queen’s Gambit showcased the complexity of adoption from the adoptee’s perspective, something rarely, if ever done in popular film. The timing could not have been more perfect either, as we are smack in the middle of National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM), a month that has become dominated by adoptive parents sharing how amazing adoption has been for them, with hardly any voice given to the children adoption is supposed to benefit.

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Michele Merritt

Philosophy professor. Adoptee. Advocate. Activist. Marathon swimmer. Cheese consumer. I write about dogs a lot. michelemerritt.com