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Alexia Shaw | April 1

It’s the weekend, and I’m doing what any cool university student is doing on a Saturday night: making instant noodles and binge-watching a Netflix show. I’m the last one in my family to watch Inventing Anna, a new series on Netflix from Shonda Rimes that dramatises the real story of the fake heiress known as Anna Delvey. The apparent German trust-fund baby (real name Anna Sorokin) has everything every influencer dreams of: lavish yacht parties, front row seats at fashion weeks, and a dreamy Silicon Valley beau to match. But Anna has lied her way into her luxurious lifestyle, conning New York’s elite into believing she belongs amongst them and swindling them out of thousands of dollars in the process. 

After eagerly consuming most of the season (and all of my noodles), I reach the finale. My sister walks in just as Anna struts into the courtroom on screen, tossing her hair and posing for the cameras that adore her. “What do you think of it?” She asks me, gesturing towards the screen. “This is crazy,” I respond, as Anna takes her seat, adorning a full outfit of designer pieces.

“I know right, she’s pretty amazing,” my sister says. 

I frown. “You don’t actually support her do you?”

My sister shrugs. “I mean she’s really living her best life.”

“Because she stole other people’s money!”

“She stole rich people’s money—which honestly, good on her.” 

I shake my head. My sister shrugs again as she leaves. “I’m just saying, she’s already lived a better life than most people ever do, and I think that’s worth doing the jail time.”

There’s a lot to like about Inventing Anna—its colourful characters, weird hodgepodge of accents and the voyeuristic pleasure of watching rich people do what they do best—be disgustingly rich. But perhaps the show’s biggest hook is its firm placement within the increasingly popular genre of true crime. It’s no secret that we as a society love a narrative with a good mystery, and it’s even more exciting when that story is adapted from the real world we inhabit (something perfectly illustrated in last year’s Disney+ offering, Only Murders in the Building). Inventing Anna plays into our collective obsession with true crime, as it slowly unravels the mystery of Anna’s true life through the investigative lens of journalist Vivian Kent, who is just as fascinated with the enigmatic young girl as the audience is. But while following some of true crime’s classic beats, the series also falls into perhaps the genre’s biggest pitfall: glorifying the actions of a blatant criminal. My sister’s admiration is not as rare as one would think, and indeed, to its credit the show itself begins to dig into the public’s debatable love for Anna in its later episodes. But instead of presenting an impartial perspective of an admittedly complex character, Inventing Anna ultimately encourages its audience to enthusiastically root for a fatphobic fraudster.

In a concerning turn of events, Anna’s tale is spun into that of a feminist icon; a scrappy female entrepreneur who struggled to succeed in a male-dominated business world. But tying a nice little bow around Anna’s toxic behaviour and calling it “girl power” is part of a problematic pattern. Painting a criminal as an “underdog” by emphasising their position as a minority is old hat in true crime—just look at Joe Exotic’s story from Tiger King. There are hours of footage of Exotic making threats of violence towards Carole Baskin and seriously neglecting his duty of care to his employees (to put it mildly). But after the series highlighted his experience as a queer man in the bible belt of America, he’s somehow become likeable enough to be paraded as a Halloween costume.

Credit: Netflix

I appreciate the show’s need to convey Anna’s charisma, and how easy it was for her to endear herself to the elite and achieve everything she did. Indeed, there is no better way to demonstrate her pull than to draw the audience themselves into her charm. But where the show falls short is when it fails to break Anna’s hold on the viewer. It doesn’t highlight how easy it is to be swayed by charismatic people, or how you too could have just as easily been convinced to pay thousands of dollars for a Morocco getaway. Instead it leaves us with a tender moment between maternal journalist Vivianne and Anna, solidifying the audience’s emotional investment in the “misunderstood young girl”. Portraying the complexities of Anna as a character is one thing, but her final tearful wish for Vivianne to “come visit” is a tug at the heartstrings, leaving us with a questionable sympathy for someone who consciously committed several serious crimes. Sure, Anna isn’t a violent criminal, but white collar crime is still crime. It shouldn’t be glamorised, and definitely shouldn’t be waved away because she’s young and wore some fancy outfits.

While Inventing Anna is no doubt wildly entertaining, it does call into question a larger issue that permeates the true crime genre. While manipulative criminals being framed as sympathetic anti-heroes is a frequent and popular trope of fictional media (I’m looking at you Loki), its existence in true crime is worrisome, as it shapes the real world’s opinions of real life criminals. Committing crime isn’t glamorous, it isn’t feminist, and in the case of Anna Sorokin, it isn’t even morally grey (she’s not exactly Jean Valjean). So, in the future, let’s save our idolisation for actual legends, and focus our sympathies on actual victims (except for Rachel, she’s still the worst.)

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Alexia Shaw

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