The Anna Delvey limited series, Inventing Anna, premiered on Netflix over the weekend. Helmed by television mogul Shonda Rimes, it was always going to be exquisite for a weekend binge. But what surprised me is that the series is about more than just the juicy story of a faux-heiress. “All men underestimate women,” Anna says to journalist Vivian in one episode.
This is the real story Inventing Anna is telling.
In case you need a refresher (I certainly did), Anna Sorokin (played by Julia Garner) was a 20-something Russian-German woman who moved to New York, took on the name Anna Delvey, and manipulated her way into the elite circles of the city, swindling money from the rich by pretending to be a wealthy heiress with a trust fund. In reality, Anna was just a regular girl born in Russia to a truck driver and convenience store owner, who was interning at a fashion magazine when she then made the leap into fake heiress life. Eventually, her lies caught up with her and she was charged with fraud. New York writer Jessica Pressler made Anna a global name with a viral investigative piece in 2018, and Anna has also been the subject of podcasts, a play starring Emma Corrin and there’s even another film in the works, with Lena Dunham reportedly attached to produce.
Inventing Anna follows two stories – that of Anna, obviously, but also that of Vivian, a fictional representation of Jessica Pressler. As Vivian (Anna Chlumsky) chases down leads, going deep into Anna’s story, we see flashbacks of the (stolen) private jets, super-yacht trips taken without the owner’s knowledge, and other wild highlights from Anna’s time pulling the wool over the eyes of the rich.
We also see how similar Vivian and Anna are. At their base level, they’re fighting for the same things – to stand their ground in male-dominated spaces and be valued, successful. For Anna, that looks like fame. For Vivian, it’s about repairing a damaged reputation.
This is very in line with Shonda Rhimes’ other creations – Grey’s Anatomy was full of strong women, and Scandal sees mega-successful “fixer” Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) wading through the murky, misogynistic waters of American politics. It makes sense that she saw beyond the glitzy action of a young socialite toying with the rich, and found a story about two women who repeatedly come up against sexism, but who also find ways to climb above it.
The sub-plot involving Vivian and her out-of-touch editor was more gripping than I expected. Every step of the way, Vivian is shut down and patronised as she tries desperately to pitch the story of Anna Delvey, by an editor who, as she points out, missed the boat on the Harvey Weinstein case because he didn’t believe there was a story there. He’s not just stubborn, he’s miles behind on current affairs – and yet he holds incredible power he doesn’t really seem to deserve in terms of merit.
Anna, on the other hand, is operating within arguably the most male-dominated space of all – finance. She struggles to be taken seriously by investors and partners, until mentor Nora introduces her to connections as her protege. Even then, she feels pressure to dye her blonde hair auburn and dress more conservatively to get a foot in the door. As she says to financial advisor Alan Reed, would it have been so difficult to obtain interest in her business if she was a man?
As women, we know that feeling of frustration all too well. How many times have you felt boxed in due to men in power? So often we’re at the mercy of men who make the big decisions, feeling like we have to put up with patronising mansplaining and sexism because pushing against it has historically led to being pushed out of opportunities or even industries. So we have to work within these systems – where men are assumed to be competent, women have to prove their competence.
The only problem with this being the story Inventing Anna is telling, is that Anna’s story is way more complex. Yes, she was a pretty young woman who was trying to make it in the tycoon world and came up against plenty of sexism. But really, Anna Delvey’s story is also about illusion. Anna knew how to pretend to be rich. That’s how she swindled people, and it’s how she made it so far into the finance world. I really wanted the series to examine this, too – how obsessed we are with image, to the point where a 20-something with no connections can acquire incredible influence and almost land million-dollar investments without anyone questioning her authenticity.
Still, it’s great to look at Anna’s story through a feminist lens. While Jessica Pressler’s piece was as balanced as Vivian’s in real life, Anna was still very much a caricature within the media – the pretty socialite who wormed her way into parties and powerful places. It doesn’t feel too dissimilar to how Pamela Anderson was reduced to a Baywatch bimbo – Pam & Tommy is another series currently airing that is giving us a feminist re-telling of a widely known true story.
Anna Delvey had ambitions beyond $10,000 dollar a night hotels and Cartier watches, and ultimately I think it’s good that Inventing Anna is focusing on this, and not just the glamour. Seeing Anna’s bigger goals played out on screen, at odds with our perception of her, reminds us just how much this world loves to minimise women to stereotypes.