This four-episode series tells yet another story centered on the scams of a con artist, such as “Inventing Anna” and “The Tinder Scam”, all recently released by Netflix. Someone in charge of the streaming channel must have a fondness for these plots. Or is the attraction to scammers in our zeitgeist and will be analyzed and explained in the future?
In the case of “From Queen of Veganism to Outlaw”, a bad translation for the very synthetic “Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives” —original title in English, something like Bad Vegan: Fame, Fraud and Fugitives—, several elements come together to also reveal the peculiarities of a curious bubble, formed by people who choose to eat only plants. And more: raw.
“Overall, these people feel morally superior to the rest of us who cause animals to die and suffer, and they tend to believe that there is something beyond this reality for those who adopt this lifestyle,” says journalist Allen Salkin, author of the Vanity Fair story, published in 2016, which inspired the documentary series.
The Pure Food and Wine restaurant, created in 2004 by Sarma and her then-boyfriend, chef and entrepreneur Matthew Kenney, was the pioneer of upscale raw vegan food in New York. It was on 17th Street in Gramercy Park and was frequented by Gisele and Tom Brady, Chelsea Clinton, Jamie Foxx, Owen Wilson and Alec Baldwin — who played an unwitting but important role in the story that culminates in the arrest of Sarma and her husband, Anthony Strangis (or Shane Fox, as she knew him), the crook of the plot, 12 years later.
The arrest was an event that seemed tailor-made for the sensationalist news. The “vegan queen”, as the American press used to label her, was captured in a small town in rural Tennessee one morning in May 2016, after ordering a pizza at the fast food chain Domino’s. She had been on the run for 10 months.
Sarma directs the miniseries —eola gives a long interview that is proven, illustrated and enriched by other testimonies, real or staged images and, most impressive of all, real audios of messages and phone calls she exchanged with her husband, Shane. /Anthony, which began recording when she realized that the story he was telling was too far-fetched.
Among other crazy things, Anthony said that she was being tested by beings from another dimension, and that, if she passed, she would become an immortal queen, in what he calls “happily ever after”, happily ever after. Her dog Leon, a pit bull she had adopted when looking for a companion for Alec Baldwin, would also be immortalized.
The “30 Rock” actor had been going to Sarma’s restaurant since it opened, became friends with her and was interested in being more than that. He told her he was looking for a serious relationship, something secure and lasting. Hence her suggestion that he adopt a dog.
To help him, she researched dogs that were in need of a home, and ended up adopting Leon, a pit bull, herself. And he, one night, at a dinner at Pure Food and Wine, noticed a beautiful, elegant brunette at the next table. He went there and introduced himself. She was Hilaria, a yoga teacher who was actually called Hillary, but who liked to introduce herself as Hilaria and pretended to be of Spanish descent. The two started dating that same night, got married in 2012 and had six children.
When she realized that Balwin had found love and she was left with the dog, she approached Shane Fox on Twitter, a guy she didn’t know who he was or where he came from, but who exchanged fun and thought-provoking messages with the actor, so, he thought, must be a trustworthy person. Shane and Sarma started talking more and more, switched Twitter over the phone and after a while decided to meet.
Without giving too many spoilers, especially the reason why the couple ended up fleeing New York in 2015, as this rocambole plot is worth the almost four hours it takes to tell, I’ll just make a quick summary of what has been said so far.
Shane Fox is actually called Anthony Strangis. He and Sarma get married. He convinces her that he has contact with the beyond and that she will undergo a series of tests. If successful, she becomes queen and her dog will be immortalized.
There was also no mention of the coup. Between 2012 and 2014, Sarma transferred more than $1.7 million from her restaurant account to her then-husband’s. Later, her mother was convinced that to help her daughter she needed to transfer over $400K to Anthony’s account.
At some point in 2015, Sarma abandoned her apartment and the restaurant she created and ran alone and, along with her husband and dog Leon, fled New York. The two were arrested nearly a year later when, through an oversight, Anthony ordered a pizza using his real name.
There are many other surprising details in this miniseries, which is reminiscent of the case of American socialite Patty Hearst, now 68 years old, who in 1974 was kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army, and, after going through what she herself called brainwashing, was recorded by security cameras in a bank robbery, with a machine gun in her hand.
Guilty or innocent? Watch and give your verdict.