Inventing Anna: “Problematic” Empathy for Anna Sorokin in Netflix Series

Inventing Anna:  “Problematic” Empathy for Anna Sorokin in Netflix Series

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Rachel Williams discusses how Shonda Rhimes’ Netflix series “creates empathy for a character who lacks it.”


Former Vanity Fair staffer Rachel Williams is speaking out about the potential of Shonda Rhimes Netflix series Inventing Anna to draw “problematic” empathy for Anna Sorokin, the Russian-born German woman who faked her identity, pretending to be wealthy heiress Anna Delvey in New York City and was convicted of fraud.

Williams, a former friend of Sorokin’s who was herself conned out of $62,000 and documented her experience in the book My Friend Anna in 2019, inspired a character in Inventing Anna, portrayed by Katie Lowes. While Williams hasn’t seen the whole series, she has viewed “enough of it,” she says in Tuesday’s Vanity Fair interview by Julie Miller, to know her objections.

According to Vanity Fair, Netflix paid Sorokin $320,000 for her life rights, which meant that she profited from her story, as Williams references.

“The fact that she financed a private criminal defense attorney, and chose to spend the money that way, doesn’t mean it wasn’t money,” she told the outlet. But more broadly, Williams raised concerns about the narrative itself.

“I think promoting this whole narrative and celebrating a sociopathic, narcissistic, proven criminal is wrong,” Williams told Vanity Fair. “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.”

Among Sorokin’s crimes, she was convicted in 2019 of second-degree grand larceny and first-degree attempted grand larceny, and sentenced to a lengthy prison term. She was released in 2021 but taken back into custody for overstaying her visa.

According to Williams, the Netflix series blurs fact and fiction in a way that is concerning. “This story is completely true, except for all the parts that aren’t,” reads a disclaimer in the show itself. “I think it’s worth exploring at what point a half-truth is more dangerous than a lie,” says Williams in the interview. “That disclaimer gives the show enough credibility so that people can believe [the fictional elements] more easily. I think that’s really dangerous territory. Plus, it affected real-time criminal-justice proceedings.”

Williams didn’t get into any specific details over what the Netflix series got right or wrong, but she explained that the narrative is “designed to create empathy for a character who lacks it” and called the whole project “very problematic.”

In the interview, Williams alludes to the negative consequences of her relationship with Sorokin. “As I’ve said one too many times, this is the hardest thing I’ve gone through — the betrayal as much as the money. Having been betrayed by someone I trusted — and to have been betrayed in a huge way. Her entire identity had been a complete sham. That really sends you into a ricochet of memories, looking back trying to look for all the signs you missed.”