Zoey Deutch and Dylan O'Brian

Not Okay: The Woman Who Wasn’t There

The Woman Who Wasn’t There (2012) 

As we near the 21st anniversary of September 11th, I am reminded of The Woman Who Wasn’t There; a documentary about Tania Head, who pretended to be a 9/11 survivor for unknown reasons. 

Her real name is Alicia Head; she is from Barcelona. She wasn’t even in New York on 9/11 but went on to become the president of the WTC Survivor’s Network. An organization that has since disbanded due to her lies.  

The documentary crew interviews her former friends and other survivors to learn more about why someone would go through such great lengths to lie about surviving 9/11. Why would anyone fake being there? It is dizzying to follow the extent she went through to make others believe her lies. But, it also shows the resilience of the actual survivors and how they were duped by someone who initially provided them with a lot of comfort and strength. 

On Lying

Everyone lies; we know the average person is lied to 10-200 times per day, which statistically provides much room for interpretation. However, most lies are told by prolific liars

I find it fascinating that someone would lie about being a 9/11 survivor, but the reasoning makes it more confusing. If it was a question of money, the documentary and other articles about Tania make it clear that she never took money from the organization nor from telling her story. Instead, she faked being a widow to a real man who died on 9/11. She also repeatedly told an elaborate tale of survival and even comforted the families of those who passed away on 9/11—ingraining herself in the community of people looking for comfort after such a horrific tragedy. 

I believe Tania was incredibly lonely and wanted to be part of something bigger than herself, so she lied to feel part of a community. 

Tania Head with Bloomberg and Giuliani.

Watching her friends, who are brave survivors of 9/11, unravel their relationship with her is heartbreaking and shows the complexities that can occur after a prolific tragedy. 

I have visited the 9/11 memorial multiple times, and every time, you can feel the weight of how the entire city and world changed because of that day.  

As we move further and further from the tragedy, it is essential to remember the victims and the bravery the people of New York and the United States displayed in response. 

Not Okay (2022)

How do you break into the mind of a liar? 

What goes into a lie? When is it time to stop lying, and how far will you go to get yourself out of it? 

Many films deal directly with excellent liars. Big Fat Liar (2002), starring Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes, was one of my favorite movies growing up; it’s a coming-of-age story set in Hollywood that’s central theme is on lying and its consequences. There’s also the brilliantly funny Ricky Gervais movie The Invention of Lying (2009), which asks the question: what would the world look like if no one could lie?

Not Okay (2022) takes a much darker approach. It follows Danni Sanders, an insecure, lonely 20-something who pretends to survive a Paris bombing attack to gain credibility at work and catch the attention of a popular male coworker. Though Danni is not directly based on Tania Head, at least from my research on the film, you can feel the similarities.  

Zoey Dutch plays Danni Sanders, the liar. Over the years, Zoey displayed a talent for getting audiences to like her, even though she plays devious, morally corrupt characters. 

Movie Summary  

Starting with a flashforward, it shows that Danni becomes the most hated person online for lying about being a terrorist attack survivor. 

The internet always looks for a villain and often lacks the nuance or understanding to dig into the story. Of course, if you get caught faking something like being a survivor, it will hurt your social standing; however, Danni’s mistake came from the allure of fame and attention after she leaned into her lie. 

Going back to the beginning, we see Danni as a textbook social climber who lacks the social awareness even to understand how to get there. She works as a photographer and aspiring writer in a ‘BuzzFeed-Esque’ media office. She ignores people at work who she thinks are underneath her and is too eager to talk and impress those she perceives to have a higher social standing. Especially the guy she likes, Colin, played by the brilliant Dylan O’Brien. 

As we go forward, Danni pretends to gain acceptance to a writing retreat in Paris. She takes the week off from work and uses her photoshop skills to show herself in Paris on social media. She posts a picture of herself at L’Arc De Triomphe right before a terrorist bombing of the iconic structure. 

Everything falls apart

Rather than owning up to her social media lie, Danni loves the newfound attention and leans into the lie. She even joins a terrorist attack survivor’s group. She befriends the survivor of a school shooting, Rowan (Mia Isaac), who she uses for clout to promote her new article about being a survivor.  

As we move further, Danni gets everything she wants: attention, notoriety, and friendships she’s been craving. But, we also see a change in her priorities from clout to genuine relationships and connections. 

We see here that she’s not a bad person, just a lonely and lost one looking for a community. But of course, her being a fraud eventually catches up to her, and she ends up hurting the people who’ve become her new community. 

Ties To The Truth 

Unfortunately, school shootings have become so mainstream in the USA that we see them reflected in our fictional entertainment. While Danni helps Rowan with her activism, it hurts everything she’s been working to achieve when Danni comes out as a fraud.

Rowan is aware of people who spread their version of lies, such as those who deny the existence of school shootings. The Alex Jones Sandy Hook Trial comes immediately to mind.

Online lying is more prevalent; we know that Instagramers use studio sets to make it look like they’re flying in private jets. Even mainstream celebrities do fake things like that to make themselves seem wealthier and more important online. 

My Thoughts 

Not Okay is a must-see movie for my generation and anyone who spends a lot of time on social media. It shows how someone is intrigued by deceit, only to have it hurt them and the people around them.  

The movie is set in a fictional world that closely reflects our own, and sometimes when the world is too close, it has funny and harrowing results. The story is slightly exaggerated but not far from what might happen if it were true. 

Both Not Okay and the Woman Who Wasn’t There highlight how we don’t know how to properly treat terrorist attack victims in the USA. It is challenging when they’ve been through something that we haven’t, and that trauma, unfortunately, becomes part of who they are. If you don’t understand, it is best to listen and learn. 

The Woman Who Wasn’t There (2012) is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. 

Not Okay (2022) is streaming on Hulu. 

I hope everyone has a meaningful weekend. 

All the best, 


You can check out more of my review of The Joneses here, and Normal People here.

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