‘Not Okay’ Plot Synopsis
Director/writer Quinn Shephard (Blame) tackles themes of privilege and adopted trauma in Hulu Original movie Not Okay. The film stars Zoey Deutch as Danni Sanders, a fame-seeker and wannabe writer who fakes a trip to Paris on Instagram in order to gain the attention of her co-worker, Colin (Dylan O’Brien).
But when a terrorist attack hits Paris during her alleged retreat, Danni’s lie spins out of control. She adopts a friend in school shooting survivor, Rowan (Mia Isaac) to make her own ‘survivor story’ seem more credible. Through co-opting the trauma of others and pretending to be a bombing survivor, Danni soon gets a taste of the fame and followers she’s always wanted.
Why does Danni Sanders lie about Paris?
Danni Sanders is lonely. Friendless and living by herself, she at least has her work as a writer at Depravity. Although, her boss (understandably) doesn’t appreciate her tone-deaf writing style (her latest piece bemoans her FOMO regarding not being present during the 9/11 attacks).
That’s Danni in a nutshell. Constantly worried about missing out, grasping for tragedy out of her crave of attention. “You guys are so lucky,” she tells a couple of her gay workers after they refuse to invite her to queer bowling night. “You have, like, a community. You have a parade. You have your own bowling night–”
She’s quickly interrupted. “Yeah, being a minority is great.” But Danni doesn’t pick up on the sarcasm, opting to wear her Whiteness and heterosexuality as the robes of a self-martyr.
Considering this obtuse brand of narcissism, it’s not really a surprise that Danni lies about going on a writers’ retreat in Paris. She does it to gain the attention she so desperately craves–mainly, from her co-worker and social media celebrity, Colin.
It works, too. Danni creates a fake website for the writers’ retreat, photoshops pictures of herself in Paris, and posts them to Instagram with cutesy sayings about baguettes. When Colin follows her, she’s even more justified in her actions.
Late one night, she posts a picture of herself at the Arc de Triomphe (9 a.m. Paris time). When she wakes up the next morning, everything has gone to hell.
How does Danni maintain her story of surviving a terrorist attack?
Danni wakes up to the news that the Arc de Triomphe was bombed in a targeted terrorist attack at 9:13 a.m.–just minutes after she posted her picture.
Her phone blows up with people concerned about her well-being, and it’s a DM from Colin that seems to convince her of her next action.
Rather than come clean about lying, Danni digs herself a bigger hole. She shares with her followers that she survived the attack and is safe. Later, she pretends to get off a returning plane from France to meet her parents. She’s a celebrity when she returns to work, and is even provided an outlet at Depravity to write about her experience.
The problem is: Danni doesn’t know what it means to be a survivor or how to make her story believable. She finds a workaround, however, in joining a support group for survivors of shootings and bombings. In co-opting their trauma, Danni finds the fame she always hoped for. And she doesn’t want to let go.
Who is Rowan Aldren?
At the support group, Danni meets Rowan Aldren, a Black high school student who rose to fame when she survived the school shooting that killed her older sister. Danni becomes close with the young activist, at first because of her fame, but soon comes to see Rowan as her little sister and best friend.
Danni becomes deeply involved with Rowan’s cause to reduce gun violence, but she isn’t self-aware or compassionate enough to see how she’s stealing from her new friend. She takes Rowan’s own sentiments and passes them off as her own in her article, “I Am Not Okay.” Danni then, not Rowan, becomes the face for a movement Danni likens to MeToo: #IAmNotOkay.
Not Okay starkly contrasts Danni’s heightened privilege with the backlash Rowan receives as an earnest activist. When the internet takes notice of Rowan it’s often to turn, as she puts it, “victims into villains.”
When Danni tries to repeat this saying, she accidentally (and so aptly) switches up the words so that they apply to herself: “The internet loves to turn villains into victims.”
Does Harper out Danni for her lies?
Everything continues to go great for Danni. That is, until a co-worker sniffs out her lies.
Harper is framed as the Depravity employee who deserved Danni’s position. She’s a more talented and thoughtful writer. With Danni’s new celebrity status, however, she has had to defer to her judgment at work.
It’s Harper who sees Danni for the fake she is. But instead of revealing Danni’s scheme to the world (which, she notes, would be incredible for her career), Harper gives her the chance to come clean herself.
So, Danni confesses her lies with another article and a promise to do better. She finally comes to understand what people mean about internet vitriol. With her story exposed, Danni Sanders becomes the most hated woman on the internet.
Danni finally realizes her privilege–how her life was so easy before. She craves for people to ignore her like she used to crave their attention. It’s too late for that, however.
Does Danni Sanders get a redemption arc?
Not Okay ends with Danni attending one of Rowan’s spoken word performances, intending to apologize. But when Rowan’s poem is an indictment of all of Danni’s actions, of her theft of Rowan’s trauma and words, Danni only applauds her and gets up to leave.
It’s not quite a redemption arc, but it is a moment of realization for Danni: that, although she can change, she doesn’t have to bring evidence of that change to her victim. Danni isn’t owed forgiveness, but Rowan should be afforded time to heal in relative peace.
Is ‘Not Okay’ based on a true story?
Not Okay is such an on-the-nose indictment of influencer culture and privilege that many viewers probably can’t help but wonder–Is Danni Sanders based on a real influencer?
According to director Quinn Shephard, no. Danni is a fictional character, but she is representative of a widespread phenomenon the director has seen in discussions of trauma, privilege, and cancel culture. “Danni is intentionally both terrible and very relatable,” Shepherd said in an interview with Newsweek. “I think especially for young white women on the internet.”
Not Okay may not be based on a true story, but the film blatantly satirizes the ways we as a society platform inauthentic voices even as we downplay the real, lived traumas of marginalized people.
Read More: Not Okay Movie Review