BY AMANDA ALCOX
On February 11th, 2022, Ozark and Grey’s Anatomy fans all over the globe had the treat to binge-watch Inventing Anna on Netflix. This limited series starred Ozark’s three-time Emmy Award winner, Julia Garner, as Anna “Delvey” Sorokin (a fraudster who posed as a wealthy German heiress), and was produced by Grey’s Anatomy’s Shonda Rhimes. During its second week, the series drew in 3.3 billion minutes watched by viewers.
But here’s the thing… Unlike Marty Byrde laundering money and Izzie Stevens cutting Denny Duquette’s LVAD wire, Anna Sorokin’s grand larceny and theft crimes against banks and New York City’s wealthy elites were non-fiction. Real crimes. Real victims. In 2019, Sorokin was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison.
So, how can audiences enjoy this limited series without feeling guilt that their views might directly pay an economic con artist such as Anna Sorokin? Well, look no further than the Son of Sam laws.
The Son of Sam laws were passed when serial killer, David Berkowitz, achieved celebrity criminal status and was offered a large sum of money to sell his story. In 1977, the New York State Assembly took action to pass this law so that convicted felons cannot profit from their crimes. They will receive no money for selling their crime stories for books, movies, television shows, etc. Instead, earned money will go right back to the victims. Critics argue that the Son of Sam laws restrict one’s right to freedom of speech. However, more than 40 states and the Federal Government have passed similar legislation.
Emma Tucker from the Wall Street Journal writes that New York invoked this rarely used law for Anna Sorokin’s case. Where’s Sorokin’s Netflix money you might ask? It was sent to an escrow account held by her lawyer and monitored by New York’s Office of Victim Services (OVS). The OVS froze $140,000 from Netflix to pay back two victimized banks – City National Bank N.A. ($100,000) and Citibank N.A. ($40,000).
Even with the Son of Sam laws, there’s no question that the attention from Netflix fueled Sorokin’s platform. Interestingly enough, Forbes reports that Sorokin cannot post on social media – either directly or by a third party – due to her house arrest conditions. Despite this fact, Sorokin has found a way to share her side of the story and ease back into the entrepreneur lifestyle.
Exclusive interview on Call Her Daddy. Check. Selling artwork. Check. Exploring reality TV ventures. Check.
Selling crime stories to major TV and streaming networks can pose a number of red flags. For one, there may be concerns that the material in the series could re-traumatize the victims – or victims of similar crimes. One of Sorokin’s financial victims was her friend, Rachel Williams. On a trip to Morocco together, Rachel used her credit card as a temporary hold while Sorokin tried to clear up an issue on her credit card. The issue was simple. Sorokin had no money. Rachel was left with the $62,000 hotel bill.
10 News in Knoxville (Rachel’s hometown) reported that Rachel was traumatized by this experience. They also shared that Rachel did not approve of how she was portrayed in the series. In addition, Rachel said, “It’s very irresponsible for Netflix to be telling it in this way, celebrating somebody who is so callous, and their willingness to take advantage of people around them to manipulate them for their own greedy goals.”
And two, there’s the possibility that spotlighting stories like Anna Sorokin could glorify and glamorize her and her actions. Furthermore, take a look at the following crime documentary series and their Hollywood sweetheart stars: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile. Zac Efron as Ted Bundy. My Friend Dahmer. Ross Lynch as Jeffrey Dahmer. The Dropout. Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes. The risk of glorification increases when viewers struggle to separate the beloved actor’s performance from the crimes that were ultimately committed.
On the other hand, it’s possible that convicted felons with a Netflix platform may want to give themselves a redemption arc and – no pun intended – reinvent themselves. Sorokin spoke to Savannah Sellers in an exclusive NBC News interview and said, “Hopefully, I’ll be given a chance to like focus all my energy into something legal. I’d love to be given an opportunity for people not to just dismiss me as like a quote-unquote scammer and just see what I’m going to do next.”
We’ll see what comes next for Anna Sorokin. But in the meantime… Grab your remote. Get comfortable with a cozy blanket. And enjoy the critically acclaimed, Emmy-nominated performance by Julia Garner. Thanks to the Son of Sam laws, you can be assured that Sorokin’s Netflix money will be going into the pockets of the rightful owners.