Inventing Anna raises moral issues as real life and fiction invisibly merge to make socialite scammer sympathetic

Like its star, the glossy Shonda Rhimes miniseries doesn’t quite pull off its performance

Inventing Anna
Where: Netflix
What: Limited series, 9 episodes, 60 – 80 mins.
When: Now
Genre: Drama
Why you should watch: This ripped-from-the-headlines limited series is the first major project to explore the life of scammer socialite Anna Delvey, and the Shonda Rhimes -led project delivers in glamour, adrenaline and talent. However, its blurring of the truth and occasionally over-sympathetic, uncritical analysis of Delvey’s character might leave viewers perplexed.

The story of Anna Delvey is hardly a new one — the German wannabe heiress who scammed her way to the top of New York society has dominated headlines and newsfeeds since her arrest in 2017. But, thanks to licensing and production time, the fictionalized portrayals and tell-all tales have only just begun to arrive. Books, exposes and miniseries covering the socialite scammer have all inundated the masses over the past year, and Delvey’s out of jail, so her now-active Instagram has brought her the cult celebrity status she’s always craved. The era of the girlboss has made way for the year of the scammer, and Delvey’s the star. 

Enter Inventing Anna, the Shonda Rhimes-led miniseries starring the perfectly cast Julia Garner. Garner studied Delvey’s accent in person by visiting her in state prison, and the results are remarkable. Delvey’s accent is shrill and elusive — you’d be tempted to think that Garner is simply attempting a garbled German accent until you realize that Delvey just sounds like that.


Inventing Anna. Julia Garner as Anna Delvery in episode 104 of Inventing Anna. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021

The glossy nine-episode series attempts to paint a thorough picture of Delvey’s rise and fall through the eyes of fictionalized journalist Vivian Kent (based on real-life New York magazine writer Jessica Pressler). The series is based on Pressler’s viral Cut article that broke the Anna Delvey story to the world, but a true-to-life interpretation it is not — the series is, first and foremost, a classic Rhimes drama. It cheekily admits this in the disclaimer that opens every episode: “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.”

One has to wonder, though, about the ethics of blurring the lines between reality and fiction in a story that’s still unfolding. The series doesn’t make the divides between truth and drama clear in the slightest, and the majority of its characters are real people who are still dealing with the Anna Delvey story today. Real-life victim Rachel DeLoache Williams, who wrote a bestselling book about her experiences with Delvey, receives a far-from-favourable portrayal in the show — and she’s already spoken out to criticize the show’s frequently sympathetic portrayal of the scammer.

This is the thing about Inventing Anna: We all know Shonda Rhimes knows how to make a fucking television show — Grey’s Anatomy, Bridgerton, et al — and the miniseries is a soapy, adrenaline-pumping ride that I couldn’t stop watching for a second. It’s good television, if you decide to let it be just television. But its problem, principally, is that it often appears to take its titular scammer at her word. There are episodes that uncritically paint Delvey as a feminist folk hero fighting solely to break glass ceilings and prove men wrong. Others seem to imply that she was a Robin Hood figure who scammed the rich to right the wrongs of classism and xenophobia. 

Kent, as well as Delvey’s defence lawyer, Todd Spodek, have a baffling loyalty to Delvey throughout the series, and both seem to believe wholeheartedly in her noble intentions and girlboss drive. Rarely does the show admit that she might have just liked money and fancy clothes, or that ambitions to start a self-titled social club are hardly the stuff feminist icons are made of. 

With skilled acting, glittering high-society drama and a gripping storyline, Inventing Anna is certainly an entertaining (if slightly too long) watch — but as I consume a series that sometimes reads like little more than Anna Delvey PR, there are points where I get the sinking feeling that I’m being scammed myself.