Real-life journalist dissects how made-up and authentic Netflix series about Anna Sorokin’s 2019 trial is – Reuters

For a show that includes a journalist among its producers, the writers pay little attention to what true or at least ethical reporting looks like.

The new Netflix series Invent Anna, about con artist Anna Sorokin, better known as Anna Delvey, includes a playful disclaimer that leaves plenty of room for interpretation. “This whole story is completely true,” it read. “Except for all the parts which are totally made up.”

But does the second half of the disclaimer refer to the stories Sorokin told his high society brands? Or does it describe the story we see on screen – the one behind Sorokin’s stories?

The answer, in short, is both: like Sorokin and series creator Shonda Rhimes [Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal]would probably agree, there’s no sense in letting facts get in the way of a good story.

During Sorokin’s month-long trial, which I covered in 2019 for The New York Times, evidence showed she stole a private jet and defrauded banks, hotels and associates out of approximately $200,000. She did all of this while trying to secure a $25 million loan from a hedge fund to start an exclusive arts club. Sneaking into a life of luxury, Sorokin tricked Manhattan’s elite into believing she was a $60 million German heiress.

In reality, she had no real wealth, college degree, or business experience. She wasn’t even German.

“The thing is, I’m not sorry,” she told me at the Rikers Island prison complex in New York the day after a judge sentenced her to four to 12 years behind bars. on counts including second degree robbery, theft of services and one count of attempted first degree robbery. She added: ‘I regret the way I went about some things.

Inspired by a 2018 New York magazine article by Jessica Pressler [a producer of the series], Invent Anna tells the story of Sorokin’s rise to the highest circles of art, finance and fashion in New York – and his ultimate fall from grace. The series, the nine episodes of which debuted on Friday, is the first show Rhimes has created for Netflix herself, and in true Shondaland tradition, the show revels in a soapy mix of sex, power and drama. ‘plot.

It also places, according to tradition, ambitious and complex women at its center. Sorokin, played by Julia Garner [Ozark, “The Assistant], is just one of them – and not the only one to be ethically challenged. Driving the story is Pressler’s fictional power of attorney, Vivian Kent [Anna Chlumsky]whose pursuit of history becomes all-consuming.

But how true to life is this tale? I took a look at what the series is doing right and wrong, drawing on my own experience and research, which included conversations with Sorokin’s attorney, Todd Spodek, and his friend Neff. Davis, and a series of recent telephone interviews with Sorokin. [A few minor details here are based solely on Sorokin’s word, so given her history, use your own judgment.] She has served her minimum sentence and is currently being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a correctional facility in Goshen, New York. [She is facing deportation but has appealed the order.]

It turns out that sometimes truth is better than fiction.

Journalism

For a show that includes a journalist among its producers, the writers pay little attention to what true or at least ethical reporting looks like.

Yes, office politics can influence decisions and relationships within publications, as they do in most workplaces. And yes, good reporting can include flattering and even friendly sources just to air their dirty laundry. But the series hinges on a moment when Vivian convinces Anna to forgo a generous plea deal and go to trial against the advice of her attorney, all so Vivian can score a career redemptive article. In the real world – or at least in the world of journalism – it could have been the biggest scandal in history.

In the series, Vivian is a disgraced reporter from the fictional Manhattan magazine who is looking for a big break. [She has been banished by her editors to Scriberia, the part of her newsroom where old writers are put out to pasture.] Seeing Anna’s story as her chance to redeem herself, Vivian curries favor with Anna by bringing her underwear from Rikers; helping to catalog the evidence (“Let me be part of the team!” she says, also unethically); and by lending Anna a white dress to wear during oral arguments, to better project an image of innocence.

Parts of this are somewhat rooted in reality. Pressler has come under scrutiny after reporting a false claim in 2014 that a high school student won $72 million on a scholarship. [New York Magazine apologised for the article.] But by the time she met Sorokin in 2018, the writer had already bounced back to the magazine, posting a December 2015 cover story about strippers who stole.”[mostly] rich, [usually] disgusting men. It became the cuddly movie Hustlers [2019]with Jennifer Lopez.

But Sorokin said Pressler didn’t bring her any underwear; nor, according to Spodek, did she help catalog the evidence. Sorokin confirmed that the decision to go to trial was his – and made against the advice of confidants. As for the white dress, Sorokin wore it during the jury’s deliberations. By the time the guilty verdict fell, she had gone black. [Pressler declined to comment for this article.]

The ‘VIP’ treatment at Rikers

I’ve often interviewed inmates like Anna at Rikers and other prisons, and the scenes of taking that Q100 bus offer a pretty accurate description of what family and friends [and eager reporters] visit people behind bars.

But these authorized media visits — what Netflix Anna calls “VIP” visits — are from a Dream Rikers, based on my own experience. Sure, reporters can skip a few buses when planning ahead, but it can take a month to get by, and there’s nothing that feels very VIP about the prison itself.

Image from Inventing Anna

Yet this was Sorokin, a woman who always manages to create an exception. So I wondered: Did his jailers really serve him and Pressler tea in a nicely furnished private room? Anna said no.

“Fault no tea at the rikers!” Sorokin texted from his prison facility. But, she added, visitors had access to a cash-only coffee machine while she was in jail in the upstate, even though “it doesn’t come in china cups,” as tea appears on the show.

The courtroom drama

As in many Manhattan courtroom dramatizations, Invent Anna has a different, more aesthetically pleasing courthouse from the one where the real trial took place. The one shown in the series is on Chambers Street, about a 10-minute walk from where Sorokin was actually tried. But if you watch the first episode closely, you’ll spot the much seedier courthouse where the case took place, at 111 Center St.

Much more specific: the drama inside the courthouse. Spodek, Sorokin’s lawyer [played in the series by Arian Moayed[, delivered a made-for-TV opening statement, comparing Sorokin’s New York dreams to those of Frank Sinatra. Similarly, the recreation of his heated cross-examination of Rachel DeLoache Williams, a former friend of Anna’s who got stuck with a $62,000 bill for a Marrakech trip, was a slightly shorter version of the rousing original.

Yes, Spodek even made Williams cry — tears lost on the jury when she proclaimed, “This is the most traumatic experience I’ve ever been through.” American Express eventually forgave the debt, and Williams later profited from the experience thanks to deals for a book and with HBO.

As in the show, Sorokin sketched scenes from the courtroom throughout the trial, including a caricature of the lead prosecutor [published in The New York Times after the trial] delivering closing statements, head shrunken, shoulders square and stamping his feet as a juror dozes. In the distance: a brick castle labeled ‘FORTERESS OF SOLITUDE’, decorated with a hypnotic swirl of dollar, euro and pound signs.

The outfits

“Don’t trample my entrance,” Anna orders her lawyer in the finale before strutting into the courtroom. As the series shows, her courtroom outfits became a virtual parade, gaining an Instagram following and boosting her image long after her Delvey days seemed to be over.

It’s pretty accurate. Sorokin definitely worked it out during the trial with the help of Anastasia Walker as her personal stylist. Instagram account is real [@Annadelveycourtlooks]. Many of her outfits are accurately recreated on the show. But as the weeks went by, Sorokin ran out of looks, she told me, and associates including Spodek and Pressler stepped in, like with the white dress.

Inventing Anna Real-Life Reporter Dissects How Invented and Authentic the 2019 Anna Sorokins Trial Netflix Series Is

Image from Inventing Anna

At times, outfits were not processed by Rikers in time for court, leading to fashion meltdowns as she rejected below-average surrogates, one day delaying court proceedings by nearly an hour and a half. . I once spotted a bag in the courtroom filled with wardrobe scraps, including a flurry of collared long-sleeved shirts, a light blue sleeveless dress [Ann Taylor, size 10]black pants [J Crew, size 0]and a mid-rise white button-down shirt from Gap.

It all sounds very dramatic [and it was], but it wasn’t entirely Sorokin’s fault. Several years before his case, a City Council bill banned Rikers suits from the courtroom because they could bias juries. Even so, Judge Diane Kiesel, the presiding judge, clearly hated the catwalk entrances and the heists that preceded them – she eventually announced that if Sorokin didn’t get to court soon [however dressed]the trial would continue without her.

focus

Sorokin’s virtually untraceable accent is one of his most distinctive characteristics. Born in a town 20 minutes from Moscow, she moved to Germany at the age of 15 but struck out on her own at 19, moving from Paris to New York. His accent is a mixture of influences, coming from everywhere and from nowhere at the same time.

So did Garner get it right? In the end, I found Netflix Anna too nasal, the words harshly diced, each syllable too carefully executed. While Garner nailed the essence of accent weirdness, Sorokin’s actual voice is softer, the pronunciation more subtle.

I also wondered what Sorokin thought of his TV character. “It’s really hard to tell where it comes from,” she said. Garner’s version, like Anna’s, is a homeless voice, spanning multiple continents and eras of Sorokin’s life. “She got it right in a way,” Sorokin admitted.

Inventing Anna is streaming on Netflix.

Emily Palmer circa 2022 The New York Times Company