Not for the first time, Netflix is today facing legal action for adding fictional traits to a real person for one of its dramas. In this defamation and false light invasion of privacy case, the drama in question is Inventing Anna, and the real person is ex-Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel Williams, played in the Emmy nominated and Shonda Rhimes produced miniseries by Katie Lowes.
“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,” asserts an unspecified damages seeking complaint filed Monday in federal court in Delaware (read it here). “The Defamatory Statements are defamatory because they tend to expose her to public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace, or to induce an evil opinion of her, and they are defamatory per se because their import is apparent from the face of the Series without resort to any other source,” adds the jury trial seeking document from Beverly Hills firm Rufus-Isaacs Acland & Grantham LLP and Wilmington’s Farnan LLP.
The lawsuit also seeks an injunction to have all the alleged defamatory material involving Williams edited out of the February 11 launched Inventing Anna. Alongside Julia Garner as fake heiress and convicted con artist Anna “Delvey” Sorokin, Lowes’ Williams is the only significant real-life and accurately named individual in the Rhimes created hit. That naming of names is a real sore point with the plaintiff, who previously sold the rights to her own part in the high society scam to HBO.
“The magnitude of the harm to Williams caused by the Netflix’s defamation has been extraordinary by any plausible measure,” today’s complaint states. “The Series has been viewed by millions of people around the world, and as a result of Netflix’s false portrayal of her as a despicable person, she has been subjected to a torrent of online abuse which have caused her personal humiliation, distress, and anguish, as well as damages to her earnings and/or potential earnings,” the 59-page document goes on to say
Surprisingly, Rhimes and her Shondaland banner are not defendants in the suit. The sole defendant in the matter, Netflix did not respond Monday to request for comment on the matter. On the other hand, Williams’ lawyer certainly had more to add to the filing.
“The reason why we have had to file this lawsuit is because Netflix used Rachel’s real name and biographical details, and made her out to be a horrible person, which she is not,” attorney Alexander Rufus-Isaacs in a statement to Deadline after dropping the suit in the court docket. “The devastating damage to her reputation could have been avoided if only Netflix had used a fictitious name and different details. Why didn’t they do this for her, when they did for so many other characters in the Series? Perhaps the reason was that she had chosen to play for the other team, i.e., HBO.”
Inspired by Jessica Pressler’s New York Magazine article “How an Aspiring ‘It’ Girl Tricked New York’s Party People — and its Banks” from 2018, Shondland and Netflix’s nine-episode Inventing Anna paid out $320,000 to the then jailed and now deported Sorkin herself to get the rights to her life’s story.
Having written about her experiences with the con artist, Williams saw nothing from the streamer and Rhimes. However, in a deal inked with the now Warner Bros Discovery-owned HBO for her the 2019 book My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress and other works, Williams pocketed around $340,000 before taxes.
With the premium cabler now looking like it is left with scraps after the global success of Inventing Anna, this lawsuit from Williams could be a case of retribution on the installment plan.
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