Netflix’s Inventing Anna opens with a playful disclaimer: “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.” Rachel Williams – a former Vanity Fair staffer who was scammed out of around $62,000 (£53,327) by Anna Sorokin, then known as Anna Delvey – says that acknowledgement “does nothing to protect” her from the “tidal wave of vitriolic messages” she’s received since the show’s “negative portrayal” of her. (Williams was played by Katie Lowes in the Shonda Rhimes–produced scammer series.)
Williams filed a defamation suit against Netflix on Monday in a Delaware federal court, claiming that the streamer “made a deliberate decision for dramatic purposes” to “portray her as a greedy, snobbish, disloyal, dishonest, cowardly, manipulative and opportunistic person.” The suit argues that the show, which is up for three Emmys, including outstanding limited series, depicts Williams as an opportunistic hanger-on who bums off Sorokin, leaves her in Morocco, and sells her out to authorities. (Rhimes and Shondaland aren’t named as defendants in the complaint).
The complaint notes that Williams is one of the major characters in the Delvey saga whose full name, employer, alma mater, and home neighbourhood remain the same in the series as in real life. Netflix gave fictitious names and biographical details to “Sorokin’s business lawyer, her boyfriend, and the wealthy socialite and her fashion designer acolyte,” but not the character based on Williams. In a statement to Vanity Fair, Williams’s lawyer, Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, said this was a key factor in the defamation suit.
“We filed the case because Netflix not only included false facts in Inventing Anna to make Rachel appear like a horrible person but also because they used her real name and biographical details for the character,” Rufus-Isaacs told VF. “We don’t challenge Netflix’s right to include a lying, sponging, cowardly snob in their series, but they should have given the character a fictitious name and made sure that no one thought it was Rachel. Instead, her reputation has been devastated because viewers believed that they were watching how the real Rachel behaved. The abuse she received has been truly awful. This lawsuit seeks to vindicate her reputation and to remind creatives that they cannot create hate figures and give them real people’s names.”