Netflix faces defamation suit over ‘Inventing Anna’

Rachel Williams — a victim of con artist Anna Sorokin, whose story became the Netflix true-crime series “Inventing Anna” — is suing the streamer for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. She alleges the show’s portrayal of her was almost entirely negative and fictional.

“This action will show that Netflix made a deliberate decision for dramatic purposes to show Williams doing or saying things in the Series which portray her as a greedy, snobbish, disloyal, dishonest, cowardly, manipulative and opportunistic person” who sponged off Sorokin, then ditched her in Morocco and later lied to her own friends to conceal that she had helped the police arrest Sorokin in 2017, the filing says.

“In reality, she never did or said those things,” the lawsuit says. “Thus, this action is based firmly on statements of fact which are demonstrably false and the attribution of statements that she never made.”

Williams’ attorney, Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, filed the lawsuit Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Delaware, Netflix’s home base, according to documents obtained by Deadline.

Williams is seeking unspecified damages plus legal costs, and she also wants the court to “restrain and enjoin” Netflix from continuing to defame her. She wants the alleged defamatory material removed from the series, which is still available on the streaming platform.

Netflix did not respond immediately Monday afternoon to a request for comment.

Williams doesn’t have a problem with there being a negative character in the series, the lawsuit says, but if Netflix was going to portray her that way, it should have given her a fictitious name and changed identifying details.

Williams, a writer and former photo editor for Vanity Fair, wrote a 2018 article for the magazine about her “misadventures” with Sorokin, whom she knew as Anna Delvey. Williams sold rights to her story to HBO.

Netflix’s “Inventing Anna,” which premiered in February, is based on a New York magazine article about Sorokin, plus Sorokin sold Netflix the rights to her life story. Shonda Rhimes created the series, Julia Garner plays Anna and Katie Lowes plays Rachel.

In real life, Russian-born Sorokin, who is a German citizen and faked being a German heiress, was convicted in April 2019 on eight felony counts including grand larceny. She served two years in prison before being remanded into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2021 pending her deportation to Germany. Sorokin is currently in custody in New York state while she contests her deportation.

The series includes variations on a lighthearted disclaimer: “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.”

“This confusing message does nothing to protect people such as Williams whose real name and biographical information are used, and who are falsely portrayed as a despicable person,” the lawsuit says.

Williams wound up the recipient of “vitriolic” messages, it says, on social media and elsewhere online. The filing also cites numerous media stories questioning Netflix’s “hatchet job” on Williams as well as dialogue from numerous scenes in the series.

Days after “Inventing Anna” became available, Vanity Fair interviewed Williams about the finished product.

Williams took Netflix to task in the story, telling her former employer, “I think promoting this whole narrative and celebrating a sociopathic, narcissistic, proven criminal is wrong. Having had a front-row seat to [the Anna circus] for far too long, I’ve studied the way a con works more than anybody needs to. You watch the spectacle, but you’re not paying attention to what’s being marketed.”

At the time she said was “concerned about some very obvious, refutable factual inaccuracies” in “Inventing Anna” but was more interested in the true-crime entertainment genre as a whole.

“Some people online think this is a fact-checked series. Books are fact-checked,” she told VF. “This show is playing with a fine line — peddling it as a true story, but also [in the opening disclaimer] saying, ‘except for all the parts that aren’t.’ I think it’s worth exploring at what point a half-truth is more dangerous than a lie.”

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