Netflix’s ‘Inventing Anna’ Prompts Introspection About My Career

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by Sherry Toh |

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The staff at the fictional Manhattan magazine waits with bated breath. It’s a make-or-break moment for reporter Vivian Kent, who’s on a call with Kacy Duke, the personal trainer once in the inner circle of Russian-born con artist Anna Sorokin.

Kent had been working on the story of Sorokin’s exploits for months, and Duke’s consent to the use of her information is key to publishing the story. If Duke declines, Kent can’t publish the story. Worse, Kent’s attempt to restore her reputation as a journalist after a previous conflict with an editor would be dead in the water.

Duke consents. The office cheers. Kent looks like a weight has been lifted from her shoulders. In the following months, the story becomes a national phenomenon that catapults her career to new heights.

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Inventing a journalism career

Ever since I first binge-watched Netflix’s “Inventing Anna” in February 2022, it has become a comfort of sorts. As a dramatized version of a real-life story written by New York magazine staff writer Jessica Pressler — whose role the fictional character of Vivian Kent was based upon — it is a testament to what can happen when a journalist trusts their gut and takes their work to the finish line.

It’s the type of testimony that budding journalists like me need on days when it feels like we’re never going to be done with a story, or that we’ll never catch a big break. Like Kent, Pressler had to battle with editors and spend difficult months investigating the tricky Sorokin. The odds were stacked against her. But she made it, and Netflix bought and adapted her story. And, if I might add, Kent was pregnant when she wrote the story.

I haven’t watched “Inventing Anna” in a while. But as this column, “Wandering the Lines,” enters its third year, and as I celebrate an essay I wrote for the book “Not Without Us: Perspectives on Disability and Inclusion in Singapore,” I’ve been thinking a lot about Kent.

Specifically, all of her late nights trawling the internet looking for leads, her Pinterest-like wall of Sorokin in her baby’s nursery. The conversations she had with her editors and her husband when they doubted her, and the unlikely friendships she formed with contacts. Plus, her willingness on many occasions to do anything for her story.

Just last year, I had to push for something I knew would be a good read for my first column. It was a two-part series on disability representation in Mass Effect, a sci-fi video game franchise. My editors and senior colleagues didn’t doubt me to the extent that Kent’s doubted her. In fact, they wanted me to succeed. But they were concerned about the heavy gaming jargon in the original draft. I quickly wrote up three drafts to show I could deliver on my pitch, and discarded one.

Little did any of us know that by succeeding, I’d later have two of the three writing samples I needed to pair with a pitch for my first gaming op-ed in PCGamesN.

That op-ed led to more opportunities at PCGamesN, which led to my pursuit of games and local journalism. That led to meeting one of the editors of the book “Not Without Us,” which led to me recounting my experiences with SMA, journalism, and the gaming industry in an anthology that is the first of its kind in Singapore.

I can’t stress enough that I was home-schooled because of my disability. To this day, I have no degrees, diplomas, or primary school exam scores. Yet somehow, I managed to make the right calls and prove I knew what I was doing. With a lot of help from friends, caregivers, colleagues, and editors who have guided me on my journey, I carved out a career path I wasn’t supposed to have.

My work in games journalism can’t measure up to Pressler’s investigative work. Nevertheless, here I am, at new heights in my own way.

Maybe this is as far as I will go in my writing career. As much as I’m hoping my contribution to “Not Without Us” will catapult me higher, reality doesn’t always align with our fantasies. But in this moment, it is no longer make or break for me. A weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and a shiver of excitement runs down my spine for whatever lies ahead.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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