Dakota Fanning has been taking roles as an actress that are not only daring but also sometimes controversial. She showed up in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as one of the Manson girls. And now, the accomplished 25-year-old thespian has turned up the heat as a British child abandoned by her parents in Africa and became a Muslim in Sweetness in the Belly.
Her role in the film, based on a tome by Camilla Gibb and slammed by certain social media trolls as “whitewashing,” was eventually clarified by Dakota on August 5 in her Instagram Stories as shared by BuzzFeed on Twitter.
“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. My character, Lilly, journeys to Ethiopia and is caught up in the breakout of civil war.”
Dakota’s character returned to Africa after being deported from the place where she grew up. However, as a child in the 1950s, she lived in Ethiopia with her parents, but they rendered her an orphan at a young age.
In Ethiopia, Lilly studied to be a nurse, and she studied to be a Muslim, both acts of which she was passionate about. She subsequently fell in love with Aziz, an idealistic doctor.
However, just when the white woman in Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia realized all of these dreams, she was sent “home to England,” as Dakota explained. She was also separated from her African lover, who went missing. She eventually returned to try to find him.
Initially, Dakota’s role was confusing to some, given all the twists and turns.
“So many talented Muslim actors out there and you cast… Dakota Fanning?” stated one user via BuzzFeed on Twitter, as reported by Deadline. That social media commenter then added, “…and to play an ETHIOPIAN?? I BEG YOUR PARDON?”
Even after her role was further clarified, more outcries came from confused parties, some of whom compared her casting in Sweetness in the Belly to Scarlett Johansson’s part in Ghost in the Shell. Scarlett played an Asian and was called out for “whitewashing” because of that role, stated USA Today.
At the time, Scarlett stated that she should “be able to play any person, tree or animal.”
“There are a lot of social lines being drawn now, and a lot of political correctness is being reflected in art.”
Still, even with an explanation regarding that former casting, Dakota was still fair game for some lambasters.
“Dakota Johnson coming for that Scarlett Johansson loot,” tweeted one user who apparently didn’t dig deep into the story on which the movie was based.
Meanwhile, other enlightened commenters defended Dakota, insisting the entire plot wasn’t getting out there.
“This is how sh*t blows up on social media,” one person stated. “If the movie is based on the book, the main character is white.”
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) September 4, 2019
Then, when Dakota Fanning gave her statement, the outage calmed down some but not altogether. This put her upcoming film’s actors on blast instead of clearly seeing the entire film’s potential, considering casting and all the rest of what it takes to get a movie made.
Sweetness in the Belly is set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7.