‘Inventing Anna’s’ Rachel Williams, Anna Delvey’s ex friend, sues Netflix for defamation

Inventing Anna was pretty popular when it aired on Netflix earlier this year. I’d read the article upon which the series was based when it was published. And in a story in which con artist Anna Delvey swindled banks and a bunch of rich people, I felt worst for the “little guy,” a woman she was “friends” with named Rachel DeLoache Williams who ended up on the hook for $62,000 in hotel bills. This didn’t change with the TV series — the actress who played Rachel really sold the character’s trust in her friend and the stress and anxiety of trying to get her money back. But overall the series didn’t portray Rachel positively and imbued her with negative character traits that seemed to imply she deserved what was coming for her — that she was cowardly, greedy, and opportunistic.

Now, Rachel is suing Netflix (but not creator Shonda Rhimes or her production company) for besmirching her good name. She’s alleging defamation, the negative portrayal is false and has caused a great deal of harm, especially since the series used Rachel’s real name.

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 Anna, and 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 portray 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 lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a jury trial as well as an injunction to have the alleged defamatory material involving Williams edited out of Inventing Anna, which 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 have caused her personal humiliation, distress, and anguish, as well as damages to her earnings and/or potential earnings.”

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, i.e., HBO.”

[From Deadline]

Rachel’s attorneys make a very good point that Netflix could have taken other liberties with the character instead of using her real name and background info. With the exception of Anna, Rachel, and Neff, most of the other characters weren’t even named in the original article and were referred to by monikers like “the trainer” and “the futurist.” There were only three characters that got a mostly positive portrayal, Neff being one of them (and the others being the trainer and Anna’s lawyer), so I can see why they didn’t change her name. But they could have easily changed Rachel’s and everyone still would have known who they meant considering she wrote a Vanity Fair article and a whole book about the experience. I doubt Rachel’s image and reputation are permanently harmed — people have short memories, are eager to forgive, and others have done far worse than her negative portrayal without being permanently canceled. Aside from recouping her original losses, Rachel has made more than $300,000 between her book deal, article, and HBO deal. Maybe she’ll make more from Netflix.

Photos credit Aaron Epstein/Netflix

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24 Responses to “‘Inventing Anna’s’ Rachel Williams, Anna Delvey’s ex friend, sues Netflix for defamation”

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  1. Noki says:

    Is she going after Netflix because they have more money? It would make more sense to go after the producers not distributors, if clearing your name is what you really want!?

    • Laura-Lee MacDonald says:

      Yes, I think she may be a bit of a grifter herself. I guess she spent all the money from the book and she’s unsure of how to get more? She WROTE A BOOK ABOUT IT!!! Sheesh.

      • Carrie says:

        It’s not defamation if it’s true. This latest move is in the Rachel playbook.

      • swaz says:

        Also, she didn’t have to pay back the $62,000 Credit Card bill because American Express scrapped it and said forget about it SMH 🤢

      • DK says:

        I also read the article on which the movie was based when the article first came out, and I agree that in that original piece, Rachel herself sounded like a grifter who was mad she got conned trying to con Anna – she may not have seen herself as also trying to con Anna, but she was pretty explicit about only being friends with Anna because (she believed) Anna was rich and well connected and would gift Rachel with expensive stuff and experiences.

        And that was Rachel’s own take on it, so…it’s gonna be real hard to prove the Netflix portrayal was false!

    • Izzy says:

      She’s going after deep pockets. She had signed a deal with HBO for the story, and Netflix ruined that I guess. Honestly, even reading her own VF article about the entire debacle, I have a hard time seeing her as portrayed improperly. Her own article, which she wrote from her own perspective, says “As a bonus, she paid for everything.” DeLoache wanted to live the jetset lifestyle she couldn’t afford.

  2. MsIam says:

    The jury didn’t buy her case so…plus I think the story was sympathetic to Rachel, I felt she was shafted by Anna and i even think the jury should have entered a verdict in her favor. I don’t think Anna came off well at all although I do think there was a stretch to try and humanize her some. But if she is complaining that the special made you look greedy, I don’t know that this moves counteracts this considering she already got paid.

    • Sunny says:

      Anna paid Rachel $5k after Morocco- she made an effort to repay her even though the amount was not close to what she owed. Because she made an effort to do so, the evidence didn’t support a finding that Anna intended to defraud Rachel. It wasn’t that they didn’t buy her story, it was that Anna’s intent to defraud wasn’t established beyond a reasonable doubt.

      • MsIam says:

        So the jury didn’t buy her story? But I think that Anna refusing to return her calls and then skipping town is a pretty clear case of “I have no intention of paying you back”.

  3. lucy2 says:

    It’s odd to me that she’d sue Netflix, but not the companies that wrote, produced, and made the series.
    The show should have changed her name, even though everyone knew it was about her.

    • MsIam says:

      I wonder if the fact that she had a public trial and her name is part of the record makes a difference? Its not like she can claim invasion of privacy, she wrote a book about it. I think this is a cash grab because I don’t think she was played unsympathetically at all unless your sympathies lie with Anna. Most of the things I read considered Anna a sociopath/con artist. She and her lawyers are hoping Netflix will settle.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        @ MsIam, this is purely a cash grab. It would have been one thing had she not written a book and an article as well in which she willingly put her name on them and outed herself. She is just going for the deepest pockets, hence Netflix.

    • tuille says:

      Netflix didn’t write the script or name characters. N’flix bought a product from Shondaland to air but Rimes – Shondaland are responsible for the plot & the script.
      As Izzy et al said above, Rachel is going for the deepest pockets in a very transparent money grab.

  4. Mel says:

    I think she was made to look bad and for some reason Anna Delvy was portrayed as some kind of damaged folk hero instead of the con- artist -liar that she is. She’s going after the deep pockets instead of the Producers. When they had the other “friends” question her loyalty at the trial, uhhh.. if she left you on the hook for 62k in Morocco, and security threatened you to the point that you had to use your work Credit Card they would have been singing a different tune. No one in this story had a good look.

    • It Really Is You, Not Me says:

      I agree. I was shocked at how one-layered the Netflix series portrayed Rachel while making Anna into some complicated anti-hero with “reasons” for her fraud and abuse of her friends. In looking into the rest of the story, I found Neff’s commentary that Rachel deserved to be saddled with the bill for the Morocco trip to be insensitive. Yes, she enjoyed living the high life but A lot of people who enjoy the high life don’t expect to be saddled with 6-figure bills they can’t afford after their rich friend who always paid for everything in the past invites them on a trip. And she was stuck in a bad situation in a foreign country. I am not saying that she’s innocent or that she wasn’t a grifter on some level and yes, these are white woman’s problems BUT Netflix went out of their way to humanize Anna and to dehumanize Rachel while using Rachel’s real name and bio without compensating her. We have talked in the past on this site about the liberties that these streaming services are taking with the rights to peoples’ life stories (aka Pam and Tommy). They are going too far and I would be PO’d too if I was Rachel.

  5. AnneL says:

    Depending on how much dramatic license they took, she might have a case. Or at least enough of one to coax a nice little settlement out of Netflix.

    It’s not analogous, but it reminds me of that movie with Matt Damon that was clearly inspired by the Amanda Knox story……a movie that implied the Amanda stand-in character might have actually done it. Amanda didn’t have a legal case because they changed the details and didn’t use her name. But when she spoke up about how the filmmakers had misused her and her story, she had a very valid point. They did.

    • bettyrose says:

      I avoided that Matt Damon film like a Covid filled coffee shop. But I’m not persuaded that Rachel Williams was misrepresented. The portrayal of her as a racist, entitled, narcissist was very specific. They already had Anna on the line as the manipulator. They didn’t need another one, unless it was an accurate portrayal.

  6. Freddy says:

    Does homegirl not see how this is EXACTLY what her “Inventing Anna” persona would actually do? LOL!

  7. Renae says:

    Has anyone read her book,My Friend Anna?
    It has to be one of the most insipid, vacuous vanity projects ever put to paper.
    After reading her account, I feel she deserves everything she got and everything she didn’t get.
    A lawsuit is not going to make her look any better. This is a horrifically stupid move on her part.

    • Lux says:

      I read it and I actually disagree with most people’s assessments of LaRoache. Blaming the victim of a con is doing just so; this is no different than blaming the victims of the Tindler Swindler. The ladies were looking for love or a certain lifestyle and the grifters made huge, convincing promises. Anna wanted LaRoache’s company; she was lonely and had no other friends (aside from Neff, who worked all the time, and the personal trainer, who was on her payroll). Netflix WAS sympathetic towards Anna and antipathetic towards Rachel; even the casting was much more favorable towards Anna.

      On a side note, I didn’t realize until yesterday that it was Lena Durham herself who had wanted to make the HBO-optioned Anna Delvey story happen! Dislike her as I may, I would’ve watched that too, just to see a different perspective.

  8. Amanda says:

    I feel like women can be easily canceled within their communities which might have real repercussions for her. I agree that it wouldn’t follow her to another city/state, maybe, but I might be similarly compelled to clear my name if moving wasn’t my choice.

    Of course she could also just totally be a grifter herself, these days it’s hard to tell..

  9. Lionel says:

    Having only seen the show (and not having read the book or knowing anything else about her) I think Rachel has a point. The character Rachel seemed naive at worst to me, and then was put in a seriously frightening situation in Morocco by a “friend” who turns out to be a scammer, and then is demonized because she gave her own story to a different publication rather than cooperating with the random main character journalist. Her vilification made no narrative sense to me at all.

    • Tourmaline says:


      I did read the book My Friend Anna and Rachel did Anna a huge favor by putting the Marrakech hotel charges on her credit card. Look what happened in the next luxury hotel in Morocco that Anna stiffed (after Rachel had flown home) – police pretty much kicked her out and hustled her to the airport, where Anna called Kacy Dukes crying and begging for a (business class) plane ticket back to NY.

      Team Rachel on this one, I think the whole Inventing Anna project had a gross tone and glorified a sociopath.

  10. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I couldn’t watch that show. I wanted to. The story is fascinating. But that voice. And her…I don’t know, it rubbed me wrong on a few levels, and I knew it was gonna irritate me. PLUS, plus (and I’m guilty as hell of contributing), watching it gave me feelings of participating in some glorification of what this particular woman was able to accomplish.