Netflix’s ‘Inventing Anna’ Slapped With Defamation Lawsuit Over Portrayal of Journalist Rachel Williams

“Netflix purposely used my real name, and real aspects of my life, to create a totally false and defamatory characterization of me,” Williams says in her filing

inventing anna katie lowes
Nicole Rivelli/Netflix

Journalist Rachel Williams has filed a defamation lawsuit against Netflix for the portrayal of her in the streamer’s limited drama series “Inventing Anna.”

“Netflix purposely used my real name, and real aspects of my life, to create a totally false and defamatory characterization of me,” Williams said in a statement sent by her attorney to TheWrap. Williams, a former writer and photo editor for Vanity Fair played by “Scandal” alum Katie Lowes in the series, was a close acquaintance of Russian-born schemer Anna Sorokin (played by Julia Garner).

The lawsuit seeks to 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,” according to the documents.

The suit alleges that, as a result of her portrayal in the Netflix series, “Williams was subjected to a torrent of online abuse, negative in-person interactions and pejorative characterizations in podcasts,” and detailed that she has received thousands of abusive messages.

The documents also suggest that the damage to Williams’ reputation could have been avoided by giving the character a fictitious name and altering “the character’s identifying details so that no one would believe that the character was a portrayal ‘of and concerning’ the real Rachel Williams.”

Reps for Netflix did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment about the lawsuit.

According to the suit, Williams’ character is “the only one in the Series who is given a real person’s full name, and who has the same employer, alma mater and home neighborhood as the real person,” as Netflix gave fictitious names to “Sorokin’s business lawyer, her boyfriend, and the wealthy socialite and her fashion designer acolyte.”

In 2019, Williams published a book about her experiences with Sorokin, “My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress” (based on a 2018 story she had written for Vanity Fair), and signed a deal with HBO to adapt the book for TV — events that are depicted in “Inventing Anna.”

“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 obtained by TheWrap. “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. “

“The truth matters and portraying real people requires real responsibility. I am filing this lawsuit to hold Netflix accountable for its deliberate recklessness,” Williams’ statement concluded.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.