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'Unlikeable female protagonist' warning label slapped on film about white woman after test screenings

"If you portray flawed women or women who reflect societal flaws, you get notes like, 'I literally don’t understand why you tell a story about this character,'" director Quinn Shepard said.

Christina Buttons Nashville TN

Many viewers of the new Hulu movie Not Okay, which launched last Friday, were surprised by a message that appeared before the opening scene: "CONTENT WARNING: This film contains flashing lights, themes of trauma, and an unlikable female protagonist. Viewer discretion advised," ( emphasis added).

Spoilers follow.

The film is centered around the portrayal of a "Karen" type of woman named Danni who becomes famous by taking advantage of a victim narrative from a terrorist attack that she pretended to have been in.

Throughout the film, Danni is repeatedly characterized as a "white woman" in a derogatory way. This "unlikeable female protagonist" is contrasted by the likable Rowan, a black activist school shooting survivor. There was no redemption arc for the unlikeable Danni, whose scheme was eventually found out. The movie ends abruptly after Rowan calls out Danni’s bad behavior using slam poetry.

Todd Spangler of Variety magazine wrote that the warning was meant to be ironic, and Samantha Bergeson called it a "faux trigger warning," but the film’s director contradicts those claims. Though the content warning may seem like a joke, Director Quinn Shepard admits that the warning "was inspired by some very real concerns" that she hopes her film can "crack open."

"The content warning was borne out of, to be honest, our test screenings," she said during a recent interview with IndieWire.

"We un-ironically and consistently got responses from — I’m not going to say what demographic, but you might be able to guess — people who were quite literally like, ‘Why would someone make a movie with an unlikable woman?’ It’s something I’ve repeatedly heard, and a lot of my other writer friends have as well. If you portray flawed women or women who reflect societal flaws, you get notes like, 'I literally don’t understand why you tell a story about this character.'"

Kate Erbland for IndieWire reports that "Shepard sought to provide a heads up about the themes of trauma and PTSD that run through the film — the 'unlikable female protagonist' is intended to provoke."

"It was interesting to me that a large chunk of the audience seemed genuinely upset by the fact that the film was about Danni, and so I just wanted to kind of poke at it a little," Shepard added.

"I wanted to see could I trick people into thinking that it was going to be a safe and funny watch, and then keep dialing down on what, at its core, this character is doing," she said.

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