Not Okay’s Danni Sanders Proves Why Cancel Culture Can Be Good
While it’s easier than ever to get a platform, Not Okay’s Danni Sanders is a perfect example of why not everyone deserves to have one.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Not Okay, available for streaming on Hulu.
Hulu’s Not Okay opens with an unusual warning, that satirical comedy drama stars an “unlikable female protagonist.” This isn’t an exaggeration; the main character, Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch), is instantly hard to watch. From her tone-deaf comments to her cringe-y mannerisms, Danni starts out as off-putting, if not yet entirely irredeemable.
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Things escalate quickly as Danni lies about going on a writer’s retreat in Paris to impress her hot co-worker Colin (Dylan O’Brien). She Photoshops herself in front of Paris landmarks, and even goes so far as to create a website for the retreat. After posting a photo of herself in front of the Arc de Triomphe, Danni falls asleep, unaware of the storm to come.
Minutes after Danni posted the photo, terrorists bombed multiple Paris landmarks, including the real Arc de Triomphe. She awakes to hundreds of messages asking her if she’s all right. But instead of coming clean about her ruse, Danni leans into the lie, and gains sympathy and fame at the same rapid pace.
The Worst Thing Danni Sanders Does in Not Okay
We watch Danni make mistake after mistake, with the number of lies she’s telling growing almost as quickly as her follower count.
Danni’s cruelest act comes after she joins a support group for survivors. She meets Rowan (played by the incredible Mia Isaac), a survivor of a school shooting. Danni is immediately intrigued by Rowan’s huge platform, and the two quickly form a close bond. Eventually, they team up to speak at a rally in support of Rowan’s public advocacy against gun violence.
Danni’s lies inevitably catch up to her when one of her co-workers finds proof she was never in Paris. Danni receives an ultimatum: She can tell the truth, or her co-worker will tell it for her.
In what might be her most selfish act in Not Okay, Danni writes a self-serving apology that doesn’t reference Rowan at all. She then posts it, revealing her lie to the world without bothering to mention it to the person it most affected.
Did Danni Sanders Get a Redemption Arc?
The end of Not Okay does a great job of shifting the narrative back to Rowan.
Danni attends Rowan’s spoken-word performance of a poem that turns out to be entirely about their relationship. Rowan expresses how hurt she was by Danni’s actions, and how she’ll never be able to forgive her.
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As Danni witnesses the sense of closure Rowan finds through this poem, she makes her one good decision of the entire movie: She walks away without trying to speak to Rowan.
Danni realizes that apologizing will only ease her own guilt, and won’t provide healing for Rowan. We watch Danni leave the theater, and disappears into irrelevance once again.
Can Cancel Culture Be Good?
Early in the movie, Rowan warns Danni that, “the internet loves to turn victims into villains.” Danni later misquotes this back to her, saying, “the internet loves to turn villains into victims.”
Not Okay invites us to reflect on the truth in both of those statements. We watch Rowan, a victim of a school shooting, become demonized by Twitter trolls and accused of faking her own experiences.
We also watch Danni, who was truly a villain, become a victim of cancel culture as the public ends up despising her and demanding she face consequences for her actions.
Criticisms of cancel culture can certainly be valid. Sometimes, incredibly public backlash to minor incidents can be more harmful than helpful. It is certainly possible for people to learn and grow from their mistakes. One error in judgment doesn’t mean someone is a bad person.
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However, Not Okay reminds us of an important point: While it may be easier than ever to obtain a large platform, that doesn’t mean that everyone deserves to have one.
Having a public platform comes with a certain level of responsibility — and a willingness to learn from mistakes, especially when other people are hurt. Staying true to yourself is always important, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of others.
Sharing your opinions publicly must also come with a willingness to be accountable when those views are deemed offensive or harmful.
What We Can Learn from Not Okay’s Danni Sanders
Actor Mia Isaac, who plays Rowan, hopes audiences don’t come out of the movie wishing Danni had gotten a redemption arc.
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She explained in an interview with Refinery29 how she hopes Not Okay helps people who may relate to Danni to open their “eyes to their own faults and flaws.”
Danni’s cinematic downfall is a reminder not only of the importance of authenticity but of self-awareness on social media. It’s crucial to reflect on our actions and how they impact everyone we interact with — both online and face-to-face.
Danni reminds us that, while it can be easy to get caught up in our online lives, there are real people on the other side of our screens. Ultimately, our actions have consequences for people other than us.