- The stars of “Bad Vegan” and “The Tinder Swindler” feel they have been misrepresented by Netflix.
- Cecily Felhy said her Tinder scammer was a “dangerous guy” but was not presented that way.
- Sarma Melngailis of “Bad Vegan” said Netflix “mocked” her abuse.
“Bad Vegan: Fame: Fraud: Fugitives” and “The Tinder Swindler” were huge hits for Netflix in 2022. But for the women whose experiences at the hands of manipulative men have been revealed to millions in compelling scam documentaries, it’s a mixed blessing — a source of regret But also cause for hope.
Cecilie Fjellhøy was the victim of a high-profile romance scam by Simon Leviev (real name Shimon Hayut), the so-called Tinder Swindler.
Velhoi said Leviev was a “dangerous man” with whom she fell in love and lost all her money after months of financial and emotional abuse.
Once she realized what was happening—that her lover was behind a Ponzi scheme designed to cheat women out of tens of thousands of dollars—she went to the police, who had just mocked her, she told Insider.
She turned to the media in her native Norway, and her story went viral. Raw Films, an award-winning production company in London, has selected and turned it into a successful documentary series “The Tinder Swindler”, distributed by Netflix.
“It’s just another account of how stupid we are in love.”
Fjellhøy wanted a factual documentary, she told Insider.
“I wanted to know why this guy was so hard to catch. To find out why the police didn’t do enough, why was it so easy for him to commit this fraud? Those were the big questions I wanted the movie to answer.”
“So when we were told it wasn’t going to be the case, I was really disappointed,” she said. “It’s just another story about how stupid we are in love.”
“It was even called ‘Tinder Swindler,'” she said. “He made it seem not so dangerous.”
Netflix focused on the ways women fell for fraud rather than the cruel crimes committed by Leviev, Fjellhøy said.
“A lot of people don’t even understand that it’s a documentary,” Fjellhøy told Insider. “We have people come to us like we’re actresses and ask if we’re real. Sometimes documentaries can be so good. People don’t even look at you as a real person.”
“And it’s hard when you’re broadcasting most of your personal stories. You have to show how you went from being so in love, you know, to talking about how you almost killed yourself.”
Velhi said she cried the first time she saw it. “I only felt stupid for choosing to be a love symbol,” she said. “I had to be honest about how many matches I’ve had on Tinder, how long I’ve been there, and how I saw love. I had to say I slept with him on the first date. I had to say things like I didn’t want to say. So you’re used “.
Describing the negative reactions she received after the show aired, she said a man approached her in Los Angeles to tell her that she was “extremely embarrassing” rather than a victim of a complex crime.
When asked if Netflix correctly depicted the abuse, Fjellhøy said, “No, that’s why I wanted to be more investigative and maybe have a psychologist. Someone to explain what the abuse actually was.”
Bad veggie broken
Another documentary star, Sarma Melngailis from “Bad Vegan”, has also criticized Netflix for its portrayal of her.
Melngailis put raw vegan food on the map. She opened her New York restaurant, Pure Food and Wine, in 2004 and helped vegan eating move away from minority status to favoring the rich and famous.
Celebrities flocked to her restaurant to sample dishes like mango salad and Thai basil, which New York magazine review It is described as offering “as much exotic sunnyness as one bowl can contain”.
Her business venture was successful, and Melngailis was honored. Then she met her assailant.
Netflix has documented the rise and fall of Melngailis in “Bad Vegan” directed by Chris Smith “Fire: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” Fame.
Melngailis’ business collapsed in 2015 after its unpaid employees withdrew, And it didn’t exist anywhere.
There was confusion and anger from her employees, friends, and partners – how did this woman smash everything she worked so hard to build?
Behind closed doors, Melangels told Insider, she was being sexually, mentally and financially abused.
Her partner, Anthony Strangis, was manipulating her into eventually stealing $2 million from her investors and employees.
The couple disappeared and were found ordering pizza in a hotel room in Tennessee in 2016. In 2017, Melngailis pleaded guilty to stealing $2 million from investors, planning fraud, and criminal charges of tax fraud.
She spent four months in prison, and Strangis spent nearly a year behind bars.
Melngailis felt like Netflix was making fun of her
Melengilis said Netflix “mocked” her trauma at the hands of Strangis. She claimed that “Bad Vegan” contained many inaccurate information, and did “great harm to all people who have gone through something like this”.
Perhaps the most mind-blowing part about Melngailis’ abuse is the story of the immortal dog: Strangis manages to convince the successful restaurant entrepreneur that her lover, Stuffy, Leon, can become immortal.
To people who haven’t experienced abusive control, this may seem unimaginable, but the documentary proves that it was part of the way Strangis was able to control Melgnalis and convince her that he possessed supernatural powers that she could also access if she just did. What did he say.
One day, while Melngailis was browsing Twitter, she came across a post from a satirical account called Perpetual Pup, operated by Netflix.
“Wanted to make your dog immortal. You’re not alone,” read the tweet with which a video was attached titled “Not all dogs should go to heaven.”
Melangels perplexedly watched a video of dogs chasing a Frisbee, while the narrator said you could “goodbye.”
“Side effects may include confusion, sudden changes in behavior and/or loss of money. Excessive bank transfers may occur. If you have a history of questionable romantic relationships, Perpetual may be a good fit for you” Portrait of Melgnilis’ face, revealing itself as an advertisement for “Bad Vegan” “.
“I would be really curious, as a study of human nature, to ask all these people to explain what they were thinking,” Melengelis said. “Because you know what, would they have done a promotion like that for a Harvey Weinstein documentary?
“I was abused physically, emotionally and sexually – and they made fun of the whole thing. They were basically making fun of psychological abuse.”
Melngailis said that even she doesn’t quite understand how Strangis did what he did. “It wasn’t that he made me completely convinced of these things, but that he was able to make my consciousness hold these concepts as possibilities, and the more I imagined them, the more detached I became from reality.”
She continued, “What I do know is that this kind of manipulation – abuse really – is more common than we think, and so Netflix doing this campaign has been a kick in the face for a lot of people who have experienced such abuse. It has been reinforcing the idea that it can’t be done.” be legal we They are crazy.”
Netflix did not respond to an Insider’s request for comment.
Previously asked before Watchman If the show was fair to Melengelis, director Chris Smith said, “Look, everything is shades of gray.”
“We tried to represent it as accurately as possible from the information we obtained through the documents that were provided to us and through the interview.”
Earnings go to Netflix
Romance scams and scam documentaries in general have proven incredibly profitable for Netlflix.
“Bad Vegan” and “The Tinder Swindler” were in the top 10 most watched shows in the week that they aired, According to Netflix data.
But the stars said that showing their story on the platforms did not repair their financial losses. They said paying for the rights to their stories did not cover their debts.
Melngailis said it wasn’t worth it because of the backlash and abuse she faced after the documentary aired — which she blames for framing the show. “They made my life more difficult and made me suffer more nonsense,” she said.
Fjellhøy told Insider that after she became a part of a popular and influential Netflix documentary, “everyone thinks we’re millionaires now,” she said.
“The people down there are the ones who get the least say give it all. I don’t see any of that success. We’re still struggling with debt, we’re in the courts and everything. But it’s been great for Netflix,” Fjellhøy said.
Netflix did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment on Fjellhøy and Melngailis’ complaints.
In response to Melngailis’ criticism of “Bad Vegan”, Director Chris Smith told the Guardian: “Look, everything is shades of grey. We tried to represent it as accurately as possible from the information that we got from the documents presented to us and through the interview.”
From fraud victims to heroines
Regarding the impact on the lives of fraud victims everywhere, Melngailis, Fjellhøy and Ayleen Charlotte, one of Simon Leviev’s victims, told Insider they are grateful for the opportunity to help people.
Despite the hardships caused by the scam itself and the consequences of the documentary, Fjellhøy said it was “worth it” because of the love she also received.
“I got a lot of messages saying I’m inspired and I’m brave and they really admire the courage that was taken, which made it so much more worth it,” she said, adding that people tell her she helped her get over their embarrassment of being a victim of a scam.
Charlotte — the “evil bitch” victim of “The Tinder Swindler,” as she puts it — has had a positive experience with the documentary, she told Insider.
“I wanted to show his face there because nothing was done with my condition. Second, I want to help people. And that’s what I did. I mean, I got a lot of great messages from all over the world, and that gave a lot of people a lot of courage to do what I did too,” Charlotte told Insider.
Melngailis, while remaining critical of Netflix, agreed that “one of the things I’ve heard over and over – usually women but sometimes men – but similarly manipulated people don’t feel lonely.”
“I’ve also heard from a lot of people who told me watching her inspired them to try going or turning vegan. So that’s cute, at least! Some animals might have been saved,” she said, ending our email with a winking emoji.