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Netflix faces defamation lawsuit over ‘Inventing Anna’

Rachel Williams, the victim of con artist Anna Sorokin, whose story was made into Netflix’s true crime series “Inventing Anna,” is suing the broadcaster for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. She alleges that 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 that portray her as a greedy, snobbish, disloyal, dishonest, cowardly, manipulative and opportunistic person” who mocked Sorokin, he then abandoned her in Morocco and then lied to his own friends to hide that he had helped police arrest Sorokin in 2017, the document says.

“She never actually did or said any of those things,” the lawsuit says. “Therefore, this action is firmly based on statements of fact that are demonstrably false and the attribution of statements that she never made.”

Williams’ attorney, Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, filed the lawsuit Monday afternoon in US District Court in Delaware, the headquarters of Netflix, according to documents obtained by term.

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

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

Williams has no problem with there being a negative character in the series, the suit says, but if Netflix was going to portray her that way, they should have given her a fictitious name and changed the identifying details.

Williams, a writer and former Vanity Fair photo editor, wrote a 2018 item for the magazine about his “misadventures” with Sorokin, whom he knew as Anna Delvey. Williams sold the 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 the rights to his life story to Netflix. 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 pretended to be a German heiress, was convicted in April 2019 of eight felonies, including grand theft. She served two years in prison before being taken into US Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in 2021 pending her deportation to Germany. Sorokin is currently in custody in New York state while she challenges her deportation.

The series includes variations on a light-hearted disclaimer: “This entire story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.

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

Williams ended up being the recipient of “vitriolic” messages, he says, on social media and elsewhere online. The filing also cites numerous media stories questioning Netflix’s “axe work” with Williams, as well as dialogue from numerous scenes in the series.

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

Williams criticized Netflix 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 too long, I’ve studied the way a scam works more than anyone needs to. You see the show, but you’re not paying attention to what’s being marketed.”

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

“Some people online think this is a verified series. The books are verified,” she told VF. “This show plays a fine line, selling 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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