The Netflix series Inventing Anna made headlines when it premiered last February for its salacious depiction of the con artist Anna Sorokin (alias Anna Delvey), but now the series is in the news because one of the people it depicts has taken issue with her portrayal. On Monday the writer Rachel Williams, a former friend of Sorokin’s, filed a lawsuit alleging defamation and false light invasion of privacy by Netflix, according to documents obtained by Deadline, claiming the show’s portrayal of her was a “hatchet job”. The lawsuit was filed by Alex Rufus-Issacs, Williams’s lawyer, in District Court in Delaware, Netflix’s home base.
In the lawsuit, Williams, a former photo editor at Vanity Fair, claims that the show portrayed her in an unflattering light. She alleges that nearly every detail of the character based on her is fabricated. In the series, which was produced by Shonda Rhimes based on reporting by journalist Jessica Pressler for New York magazine, Williams is seen accepting gifts from and going on expensive trips with Sorokin—who posed as the fake German heiress Anna Delvey, claimed a net worth of $60m and claimed she was starting an exclusive contemporary art space and private club in Manhattan. Eventually, once she realises Sorokin’s stories are lies, Williams assists in the sting operation that leads to Sorokin’s 2017 arrest in Los Angeles.
Williams wrote about her friendship with Sorokin for Vanity Fair and has published a book about the affair, My Friend Anna: the True Story of the Fake Heiress of New York City (2019). Her writings on Sorokin are being turned into an HBO drama that is currently being developed by Lena Dunham.
In a scene from Inventing Anna, Sorokin leaves Williams behind on a lavish trip in Morocco after her credit card is declined. The series appears to suggest that Williams ended the friendship once she realised Sorokin had financial problems.
“Williams did not stop being friends with Sorokin because Sorokin was having problems in Morocco,” the complaint states, “but rather because she subsequently discovered on her return to New York that Sorokin was a liar and a con artist whose statements and promises had induced Williams to incur liabilities of around $62,000 on Sorokin’s behalf were false, and who only reimbursed her $5,000 despite numerous promises to reimburse her $70,000 to account for the full debt and any late fees incurred.”
Another point of contention in the lawsuit is that Williams’s character in Inventing Anna is the only supporting character whose name and biographical details—including her employer, her education and the neighbourhood where she lived in—were not changed. This, the lawsuit alleges, amounts to false light invasion of privacy, a claim that may be easier to prove than defamation, which, depending on the jurisdiction, may require plaintiffs to prove not only that false statements were made but that they caused harm to the subject of those statements.
After her arrest, Sorokin was found guilty, ordered to pay $199,000 in restitution and was fined $24,000. She served two years in prison then was released on parole, only to be detained again for overstaying her visa. Currently, Sorokin is housed in a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centre in New Jersey awaiting deportation to Germany. Since she has been in ICE custody she has been busy making art that was featured in a one-night exhibition in New York City in May and minting NFTs. Netflix reportedly paid her $320,000 for the rights to her story.