After the release of Netflix’s show “Inventing Anna,” you probably know the story of Anna “Delvey” Sorokin, the Russian-born woman who pretended to be a German heiress and swindled New York City’s elite out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The story of how she tricked so many into thinking she was a German heiress is so fascinating that Shonda Rimes created Inventing Anna, a Netflix series telling a fictionalized version of the Anna Delvey story. Though the show is entertaining, it tries (and fails) to present Anna as a feminist #girlboss icon – glossing over the fact that she’s a criminal.
The Show Glamorizes Anna To Turn Her into a Girlboss
Inventing Anna is based on an article in The Cut by real-life journalist Jessica Pressler, who interviewed Anna Delvey, her friends, and victims to try to discover how she was able to trick so many people into thinking she was a German heiress, or if Anna was telling the truth and was misunderstood. Pressler is the basis for fictional journalist Vivian Kent, who’s determined to get to the bottom of the Anna Delvey story. What’s odd is that Vivian can’t help but admire Anna for her talent for scamming people.
Alex Abad-Santos of Vox thinks this is problematic, and I can’t help but agree. He writes, “In seemingly every single one of the nine episodes of Inventing Anna, a character – usually Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky), who is based on Pressler – talks about how Delvey has a special talent for swindling her rich friends. Kent discusses this talent with Delvey’s defense lawyer. She wonders about Delvey’s brilliance aloud to her writer friends in ‘Scriberia’ (a term for the corner of the office she and other writers occupy). She argues with her editor, and with her husband to the point that marriage counseling is perhaps needed, that this is what makes the Delvey story worth covering.”
Anna Delvey is somehow singular and special, and that makes her more than just a thief.
Abad-Santos continues, “In other words, Delvey is somehow singular and special, and that makes her more than just a thief. And the flipside of this assertion is that grifting for the sake of grifting – or, more to the point, for survival – is ignoble…Delvey’s scam is positioned as a victory over…sexism because the harm she does is focused on the people who run the system. There’s something honorable in her grift, the show seems to argue, and if you don’t agree, you might be a bit sexist.”
Anna’s main goal is to establish a Soho House-type club called the Anna Delvey Foundation, and she has to fool investors into supporting her and banks to give her business loans. This isn’t easy for Anna, and she makes it clear that she believes this process would be easier if she were a man, more specifically an American man. One scene shows her having a business dinner with two men from the two banks offering her a loan. After the dinner, one of the men tries to follow her to her hotel room to sleep with her, and he’s only foiled when her friend Neff notices him trying to take advantage of her. While this addresses a sad reality that many women have to deal with in the business world, Anna uses the incident to gain sympathy from Neff by telling her how difficult it is to make it as a woman in business. This eventually helps her swindle Neff out of an expensive dinner bill and take advantage of Neff’s kindness to extend her stay at the hotel where Neff works. Anna ultimately uses her “disadvantages as a female in a sexist world” to take advantage of Neff’s kindness.
Another narrative that the show (and Anna’s lawyer) tries to push is that she’s a Robin Hood-like figure stealing from the rich. Although this narrative might convince some because hating capitalism is "cool," this narrative falls apart when the viewer realizes that Anna is in it for herself and nobody else. She goes as far as to trick her so-called friends into lending her money they don’t have with no intention of paying them back, and Rachel DeLoache Williams is the most prominent example.
The Power of Anna’s Charisma
Anna famously swindled Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel DeLoache Williams out of $62,000 (which was more than Rachel’s annual salary at the time) during an ill-fated trip to Marrakesh, Morocco. Rachel went on to turn Anna into the police and published her experience in a Vanity Fair article and her bestselling memoir, My Friend Anna.
It’s easy to be captivated by larger-than-life characters who defy our expectations.
Rachel has been one of the show’s harshest critics, condemning the showrunners for glamorizing a criminal like Anna. In an article for Time Magazine, Rachel detailed how she fell for Anna’s con. She wrote, “This is what I’ve learned: people, like ideas, only have as much power and influence as we give to them. Without even realizing it, I gave Anna enormous power and influence over me – power and influence I then spent years working to reclaim. Anna is clever. She can be funny. I, too, used to find her amusing. Like others do now, I once marveled at her audacity, at the way she plays by her own rules, at the grandiosity of her dreams, and at her ridiculous, outsized confidence. It’s easy to be captivated by larger-than-life characters who defy our expectations, especially when we think we have nothing at stake.”
Rachel’s account of Anna’s manipulative charisma destroys the show’s #girlboss narrative simply by painting a picture of who Anna really is. Is it empowering to promote scamming your way to the top? I don’t think so. There’s nothing empowering about Anna Delvey’s story, just like there’s nothing empowering about other female scammers like Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes.
Anna May Be Entertaining, but That Doesn’t Make Her a Good Person
Personally, I enjoyed Inventing Anna. I knew the true story going into the show, and I wasn’t disappointed by Julia Garner’s over-the-top accent and portrayal of the fake German heiress. Though I enjoyed the show, I think it’s important to acknowledge the truth about Anna and not start idolizing her.
You don’t get a free pass for being a criminal just because you’re a charismatic person.
I thought what Anna did was awful, but I couldn’t help but find her hilarious. Anna is funny in the same way that Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga's character in House of Gucci) is funny. Both women are morally corrupt criminals (though murder is far more immoral than grand larceny), and their delusional ways of justifying their crimes make the cast members of Real Housewives look self-aware.
Anna isn’t a good person, but it’s possible to acknowledge that she’s both entertaining and not a good person. Remember when everyone was obsessed with Tiger King in March 2020? Joe Exotic was also entertaining, but that didn’t absolve him from abusing animals. The delusions of grandeur held by Tinder Swindler Simon Leviev were also hilarious, but nobody is arguing that he’s a stand-up guy; everyone agrees he’s a narcissist who took advantage of innocent women for money. You don’t get a free pass for being a criminal just because you’re a charismatic person.
Inventing Anna tells a fictional version of the Anna Delvey story and attempts to turn her into a feminist icon. But there’s nothing feminist or empowering about trying to scam your way to the top, no matter how fashionable your designer sunglasses are.
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