Not for the first time, Netflix is facing legal action for adding fictional traits to a real person in one of its dramas. In this case of defamation and false light invasion of privacy, the drama in question is Inventing Annaand 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 portrayed her as a greedy, snobbish, disloyal, dishonest, cowardly, manipulative and opportunistic person,” reads a complaint (read it here) filed Monday in Delaware federal court.
“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 document from Beverly Hills firm Rufus-Isaacs Acland & Grantham LLP and Wilmington’s Farnan LLP.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a jury trial as well an injunction to have the alleged defamatory material involving Williams edited out of Inventing Annawhich premiered on Netflix on February 11. 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 59-page 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 I have caused her personal humiliation, distress, and anguish , as well as damages to her earnings and/or potential.”
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. Conversely, Williams’ lawyer 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 said in a statement to Deadline after placing 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, ie, 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 now-Warner Bros. Discovery-owned HBO for her 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 Annathis lawsuit from Williams could be a case of retribution on the installment plan.