The content warning at the beginning of Hulu’s ‘Not Okay’ sets the tone perfectly: “This film contains flashing lights, themes of trauma, and an unlikeable female protagonist.” From that point on, Danni Sanders, played by Zoey Deutch, lives up to the disclaimer, gradually becoming more and more loathsome with every decision she makes; but hey, you can’t say you weren’t warned.
Hulu’s newest dark comedy, directed by Quinn Shephard, parodies the “struggles” of being an online influencer, highlights themes of performative activism, and the phony facades of ourselves social media encourages us to create.
The film opens with Danni speaking with the editor of Depravity, the film’s fictional Buzzfeed-esque media outlet. Her “tone-deaf, offensive even” article pitch is being shot down, with an additional reminder that she is not a writer, but just a photo editor.
With an aching desire to be noticed and respected, both as a writer and a person, Danni goes on to gloat about her self-fabricated writers’ retreat in Paris. Happily uploading her Photoshopped pictures to Instagram from her bedroom, she gets trapped in her lie as a tragic terrorist attack strikes at the Arc de Triomphe, where Danni had claimed to be 5 minutes prior to her post.
Rather than coming clean and dealing with the temporary shame and embarrassment, she digs a deeper hole for herself, pretending to live her life as a survivor. Her faux tale of survival instantly grants her the outpour of attention she was desperately craving, gaining followers overnight and condolences from her family and colleagues.
After her pitch to tell her own story to “work through the pain” is approved, Danni seeks out a local support group to take her own notes on how to accurately play the role of the victim. She later befriends one of the group members, 17-year-old teen activist and school shooting survivor Rowan Aldren, played by Mia Isaac.
The contrast between these two is shown throughout the duration of the film, with Rowan actively speaking out against gun violence and working through her trauma daily, while Danni uses Rowan (and her huge following on social media) as a pawn to climb to a higher influencer status.
The satirical film mirrors real life instances where marginalized people are doing the real work, both personally with their lingering trauma and publicly with their activism, while others are given platforms they don’t deserve, abuse their positions of privilege, or post about these issues but don’t actually help the cause beyond hitting the reshare button.
In an era of posting black squares on your feed and resharing infographics on your story to show solidarity on social issues, social media can often blur the lines between performative and authentic activism. While Danni Sanders is an exaggeration of a self-absorbed influencer, ‘Not Okay’ refreshes the audience on the fact that there are people currently in the limelight who are willing to risk it all for personal gain and online validation, even if that means it’s at others’ expense.
‘Not Okay’ is currently available for streaming only on Hulu.