In this article:
- Quin Shephard’s new movie, Not Okay, stars Zoey Deutch as Danni Sanders, who represents everything audiences hate about Instagram influencers.
- The shallow, tone-deaf influencer becomes embroiled in a web of lies as she uses edited photos to convince her followers (and her Insta-famous coworker) that she’s attending a writer’s retreat in Paris.
- Zoey Deutch’s character highlights a very real problem online: Some people will do anything (including lying) to gain clout and achieve influencer status.
- Dannie Sanders parallels real-life influencers like Caroline Calloway (who has a cameo in Not Okay) and Yovana Mendoza, who cultivated false online personas in order to gain a following.
It’s 2022 and we’re still living in the Instagram influencer era. People will do anything for clout — and plenty of them have taken questionable and downright cancellable steps to become Insta-famous. This is the premise of Quinn Shephard’s new Hulu movie Not Okay starring Zoey Deutch.
Hulu’s Not Okay Reveals the Stark Contrast Between Reality and Social Media
The Set It Up and The Politician actress plays Danni Sanders, who literally comes with an audience warning that she’s an “unlikable female protagonist.”
Sure enough, Danni is a 20-something self-described zillennial who works for a Buzzfeed-esque online magazine called Depravity. She’s the kind of person who will make her sexuality ambiguous for an afternoon to gain the acceptance of her LGBTQ+ co-workers.
She’s the person who never gets off her phone and constantly checks her social media metrics. She pitches a clickbait-y article, “Why Am I So Sad?”, and blames her depression and anxiety on 9/11 FOMO. Not being part of the collective trauma (because she was on vacation at the time it happened) has led to her feeling outcasted her entire life.
Not Okay doesn’t waste time in establishing Zoey Deutch’s character as a shallow, tone-deaf, Instagram influencer wannabe. She cares so much about having clout and getting noticed by Colin, an Instagram famous coworker played by Dylan O’Brien, that she fakes getting into a writers’ retreat in Paris.
This is where Danni begins to spin a web of lies she can’t unspool. With her photo editing prowess, she mocks up Instagram-worthy shots that portray her traipsing around the City of Love.
Dressed in a summer frock and a red beret, she snaps a photo of herself in her living room (and later adds the Arc de Triomphe behind her) with the cutesy caption, “Starting my morning right. Now where’s my baguette?” I have to admit that Zoey Deutch does look good in her fit, but that’s beside the point.
Danni’s digital fairy tale turns into a nightmare when, minutes after her recent post, Paris gets attacked by bombs. Any person with a conscience would have come clean.
Seriously, who would lie about being in a bomb attack where dozens die? Danni would. Her narcissism, fuelled by her newfound clout and concern from her IG following, compels her to commit to the lie full-time.
Back home, she’s immediately put on a pedestal for surviving a traumatic experience. Depravity is just as hungry for clout as Danni so her editor asks her to write about the attack.
Wanting to gain more insight into what actual trauma victims go through, she sits in a survivors’ group meeting. There, she meets Rowan, a school shooting survivor. Unlike Zoey Deutch’s digital con artist persona, Mia Isaac’s Rowan is the real deal.
Rowan has become outspoken about gun violence in the country and leads rallies against the lack of gun control. Danni thinks she can learn a thing or two from the young activist — on how to trade your trauma for clout, not how to survive it — and gloms on to Rowan.
Rowan helps her find a platform for her piece and the online initiative she starts, #IAmNotOkay, encouraging people to speak up about their trauma.
Zoey Deutch’s Character Reminds Us of Everything That’s Wrong in the Influencer World
As far as viral articles and campaigns go, Danni’s vague recollection of her experience is ultimately what makes it a more relatable and shareable piece of content. It’s not surprising that she’s unable to dig deep given that she was never actually victimized. Danni simply paraphrased a conversation she had with Rowan and used Rowan’s survival guilt and anger for her own clout.
Zoey Deutch also portrays the kind of person we love to hate online very convincingly. Danni has all the makings of the stereotypical Instagram influencer. As a white, thin, and attractive woman, she fits the influencer mold perfectly.
Instagram has been accused of developing algorithms that work to suppress the accounts of people of color, while simultaneously floating the content of white influencers to the top. An aspiring Instagram influencer like Danni would get more chances of gaining a following in the real world. She would also get paid more than other creators for the same post.
But the road to Instagram stardom has admittedly gotten more saturated and, thus, competitive. Influencer wannabes have had to get more creative with their content over the last couple of years. Some take this to the extreme by straight up lying to their audience or promising them things they can’t deliver.
Remember Caroline Calloway who first became Instagram famous in 2013? She reeled audiences in with her long and dreamy captions documenting her life as an American student in Cambridge.
After her rise to influencer status, Caroline immediately signed a book deal with a publisher, which she was not able to complete. She was also dubbed Instagram’s scam queen for hosting overpriced seminars on creativity. They turned out to be disastrous (a la Fyre Festival) and nowhere near the quality that her followers paid for.
By far the biggest lie Caroline told was about the author behind her captions. It was part of her branding as an Instagram influencer. And since they were on her page, followers assumed Caroline wrote the flowery paragraphs that gave her clout in the first place.
A few years after her following diminished, Caroline started trending again after an explosive piece came out by her former friend and ghostwriter, Natalie Beach. Most of her posts — and the book she was commissioned to write — weren’t actually penned by Caroline but by Natalie.
Here’s a fun fact: Caroline Calloway actually appears in a cameo in Not Okay as herself. Danni watches Calloway’s page religiously, which is telling of the kind of influencer she wants to become.
Shephard actually reached out to several influencers who have been on the receiving end of the internet’s cancel culture. They were supposed to appear in the online shaming support group Danni attends later on.
If we had a few guesses as to who could have done cameos for the movie, our first would be Yovana Mendoza. Formerly known as Rawvana, Yovana is the face behind a popular raw vegan diet page. Her Instagram and Youtube accounts still have millions of supporters.
But a large chunk of her following dropped when it was revealed that she doesn’t actually follow the diet she promotes.
Yovana was caught eating fish in another Instagram influencer’s stories. You might be thinking: Who cares? Honestly, that was my first thought, too. But thousands of her vegan followers criticized Rawvana because she was profiting from a lifestyle she wasn’t following herself.
People bought expensive diet programs and wellness plans she curated but didn’t believe in. Naturally, her audience felt scammed and betrayed.
Many more influencers like Caroline Calloway and Yovana Mendoza have been canceled by the public eye. Fitness guru Brittany Dawn is another example. She promised customized workout plans to clients who either never received them or got the same program as others. Then there’s wellness influencer Belle Gibson who lied about having cancer and peddled medical advice she was not qualified to give.
Why Do We Care So Much About Influencers?
All of these cases represent different levels of deception. After all, lying about writing your captions is not as bad as lying about surviving cancer. But the size of the lie doesn’t spare real people from being affected and experiencing consequences.
We also invest so much of our time, energy, and finances into influencers. “Are we the real punchlines who spent our hourly wages to support you and see your ‘workshop’,” one of Caroline Calloway’s fans wrote in response to her disappointing seminar.
When they don’t deliver what they promise, we feel duped.
Danni Sanders may have only wanted to falsify a trip to get noticed by a guy, but Not Okay ultimately explores how our actions in the digital sphere affect the real world.
For one, her time in the spotlight detracted from the issue of the bombing. We never actually hear much about it or the people who died. In one talk show Danni attends, the host is more interested in doing a fit check than in talking about the attacks. Lying about her story ultimately sidelined and minimized other people’s trauma.
It’s enraging when influencers don’t realize the responsibility they carry for being public figures. Rowan actually says in the movie that it’s a lot of pressure to navigate, especially since she was only a teenager. Meanwhile, Danni continued to lie her way to Instagram fame and didn’t care about the aftermath until it was already happening to her.
We hold influencers to a higher standard precisely because of the influence they have over their audience. They have the power to influence audiences to do things, like purchase products and services that prove harmful to them. Think of the fraudulent detox teas that the Kardashians were raving about.
They can also promote toxic ideas and false claims among their impressionable followers. An example of this is how wellness influencers were some of the biggest advocates of anti-vaccination views — or how one of Belle Gibson’s followers ditched chemotherapy because the disgraced influencer claimed alternative methods cured her cancer.
The great thing about platforms like Instagram is how they can give anyone a voice to speak up about real issues. Anyone can become an influencer for the good even if it is just within their own circle.
As horrible as the character she plays in the movie is, Zoey Deutch delivers a praise-worthy performance. The rest of Not Okay is indeed a cringe-fest as Danni continues to deceive her audience and her close connections.
It’s like a car wreck that’s hard to watch but you can’t seem to look away. You just have to know what happens next. Let me tell you now that it does end on a satisfying note by shifting the spotlight to Rowan, who’s far more deserving than Instagram influencers like Danni.