“I found myself deeply affected by the endless scroll through frightening news headlines, mixed ceaselessly with influencer scandals, cancel culture and sponsored ads for skincare that will somehow make you forget that the world is burning,” says writer-director Quinn Shephard. “Writing Not Okay was a way for me to cope with the emotional information overload I was experiencing, and use satire to critique it.”
A mix of cautionary tale and social satire, its story traces back to writer-director Quinn Shephard’s experience of the cultural collision online during the last few years.
Not Okay’s characters should be familiar to those with a passing knowledge of the most notorious swindlers of the Internet age. Its “heroine”, Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch), is a photo editor at a content mine who aspires to be the next viral sensation. Her co-worker/crush Colin (Dylan O’Brien), is a weed boi influencer. Her nemesis Harper (Nadia Alexander) is a feminist crusader who trades in Ruth Bader Ginsburg think pieces. And her new ally is Rowan (Mia Isaac), a school-shooting survivor turned gun violence advocate; the only virtuous one of the bunch.
“[The movie] really dives into what we’re dealing with as a generation,” says Nadia Alexander, who plays Harper. “When you scroll on your phone, you see baby goats and influencers next to stories about terrorist attacks and governments toppling and then it’s like, ‘buy this thing’ and, ‘are you skinny enough, what do you need to do?’ And it’s just this constant information overload.”
As written by Shephard, they’re all tragic figures, each using the web in an attempt to cope with a collective trauma that their Internet use is making worse by the day.
Danni wants to carve out a place for herself, and there are only two ways to get famous on the Internet: Be yourself, or be somebody else. After realizing her lifestyle isn’t all that Internet-friendly, Danni decides to do the next best thing: Make some shit up.
Danni’s plan is to use her photo editing skills to fake an Instagram-friendly trip to Paris in the hopes of supercharging her socials. The scheme works, until a very real incident strikes the city and she decides to maintain the illusion: a cynical decision born of desperation to be noticed and have ‘her pain’, such as she calls it, acknowledged.
“Danni has a lot of privilege and it’s tied into all of her actions, which the film aims to critique to make a larger point,” says Shephard. “Her co-opting of trauma, her idealization of Internet fame and attention without depth.”
As Danni’s facade begins to unravel and she faces the wrath of the Internet, Not Okay tackles mob mentality and unpacks an online pastime: high-profile cancellations.
“Cancel culture is complicated,” says Shephard It can be weaponized or warped into just another form of cyber bullying, and there can be a lot of misogyny within this too – we as a society delight in watching women like Danni suffer.”
When it comes to Danni getting what she deserves and consequences for her, Shephard considers it an open-ended question.
“I don’t necessarily believe in ‘villains’ as a storyteller, but I do think Danni’s actions and the culture she represents are very deserving of criticism,” says Shephard. “Danni is a reflection of her environment, though not a product of it in a way that earns her an excuse for her actions.”
It’s the natural endpoint of a movie that Shephard wrote to explore and satirize the devil’s bargain that a whole generation has made with the Internet.
“I don’t think this film is telling audiences to throw their phones in the ocean and that social media is evil,” says Shephard. “But you should definitely take all the noise online with a major grain of salt. And also, to question whose stories get told, and why and how they are told.
“A lot of good happens online and so does a lot of bad,” she continues. “We definitely need to stop seeking meaning in our lives from it, because the Internet will never love you back. But we have to learn to co-exist peacefully with it, because I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay.”
You can watch Not Okay on Disney+ from 29 July.
Quinn Shephard, Writer & Director
Quinn Shephard is a filmmaker and writer most widely known for her auspicious directorial debut, Blame, which she wrote, directed, and starred in – all before her twenty-first birthday. BLAME premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2017, making her the youngest female filmmaker to ever screen a feature at the festival and ultimately earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay. The film, a contemporary play on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, received praise from journalists calling her debut “startlingly confident” and one that “radiates with a specific artistic vision and declares the arrival of a brand-new cinematic storyteller.”
Shephard’s intelligently crafted work centralizes complex female characters in inherently challenging and political settings. She is proudly queer and is passionate about the LGBTQIA+ community, gun control, and women’s rights.
Before pivoting into filmmaking exclusively, Shephard appeared in several film and television roles including Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST and the television show the Hostages.