Dakota Fanning is set to play a white, Ethiopian Muslim refugee in Hollywood’s adaptation of the book “Sweetness in the Belly,” and the world is not here for it.
Another day, another social media controversy and this time it involves actress Dakota Fanning. On Wednesday, Deadline posted the first look of the upcoming film “#SweetnessintheBelly,” the story of a white British woman who grew up in Ethiopia but escaped to the UK as a refugee, fleeing the civil war in Ethiopia. While in London, she embraces the Muslim immigrant community and works to reunite families who have been separated.
However, what some people may not know is that the book, in which the film is based, also has Fanning’s character depicted as white as well. The director of the film, #ZeeMehari, is also Ethiopian himself. But the bigger issue for some people isn’t that Fanning is a white woman, playing the role of a white character, but rather a white woman is the first to portray Black, Muslim stories, and that for some reason, Hollywood only wants to tell stories about Africa if a white person is the one saving it.
After the backlash, Fanning, 25, responded to critics in her Instagram story writing, “Just to clarify. In the new film, I’m a part of, Sweetness in the Belly, I do not play an Ethiopian woman,” she wrote. “I play a British woman abandoned by her parents at seven years old in Africa and raised Muslim. My character, Lilly, journeys to Ethiopia and is caught up in the breakout of civil war. She is subsequently sent ‘home’ to England, a place she is from but has never known.” She added, ”Based on a book by Camilla Gibb, this film was partly made in Ethiopia, is directed by an Ethiopian man (Zeresenay Berhane Mehari) and features many Ethiopian women. It was a great privilege to be part of telling this story.”
“The film is about what home means to people who find themselves displaced and the families and communities that they choose and that choose them,” she wrote.
Social media, per usual, had time to address the issue. “All the outrage for Dakota Fanning playing a white Ethiopian in the film version of Sweetness in the Belly is nonsense. She hasn’t taken a role from a black actor. The character is white in the book. It really wouldn’t take much research to find this out before raging about it,” one user wrote.
In response to that tweet, another person wrote, “No, that’s not it. Hollywood is unwilling to make a film about Africa that doesn’t centre the experience of a white protagonist. Some of y’all can’t process a story about Africa unless a European is Saving it. That’s the outrage.”
The film is set to debut at the Toronto Film Festival. What do you all think?