Based on the novel of the same name by Camilla Gibb, the film follows a British orphan in Ethiopia, played by Fanning, who grows up to become a Muslim nurse. After the first clip from the movie was released on Wednesday, September 4, the Uptown Girls star, 25, came under fire, with many accusing her of whitewashing a role that should’ve went to an actor of color.
“so many talented Muslim actors out there and you cast… Dakota Fanning???????????????????? and to play an ETHIOPIAN?????????????? I BEG YOUR PARDON???????????????,” one critic tweeted.
Another Twitter user jokingly compared Fanning to Scarlett Johansson, who has had a history of playing controversial roles in films like 2017’s Ghost in the Shell. “This is so unnecessary. It’s not like it’s hard to find black muslim actresses for a role like this. Scarlett Johansson is right there,” the user wrote.
After the backlash, the I Am Sam actress took to her Instagram Story to explain that, though her character was raised Muslim in Ethiopia, she’s actually British and was orphaned after her parents were killed when she was 7 years old.
“Just to clarify. In the new film I’m a part of, Sweetness in the Belly, I do not play an Ethiopian woman. I play a British woman abandoned by her parents at seven years old in Africa and raised Muslim,” Fanning wrote in a post on her Instagram Story on Wednesday.
She continued, “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. Based on a book by Camilla Gibb, this film was partly made in Ethiopia, is directed by an Ethiopian man and features many Ethiopian women.”
Fanning ended her post by explaining what an honor it was to star in the movie, despite the negative assumptions.
“It was a great privilege to be a part of telling this story,” she wrote. “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. I hope you enjoy the film somewhere, somehow after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival!”