Dakota Fanning Rejects Whitewashing Allegations Over Muslim Role

A clip from the TIFF-bowing feature 'Sweetness in the Belly,' in which Fanning plays a girl abandoned in Africa who is raised as Muslim, sparked outrage on social media.

Dakota Fanning has responded to allegations of whitewashing over her latest role. 

In Sweetness in the Belly, adapted from Camilla Gibb's 2005 novel and screening in Toronto, the actress — recently seen as a Manson girl in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood — plays a child refugee who is abandoned in Africa by her parents and raised in Ethiopia as Muslim. 

The first clip from the film, directed by Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, was released earlier this week, and fell foul of several online commentators, who complained on social media that Fanning's role — which originally Saoirse Ronan was attached to play — should have gone to a Muslim actress or a woman of color. 

However Fanning, writing on Instagram, sought to clarify her role, saying that she was not, in fact, playing an Ethiopian woman.

"I play a British woman abandoned by her parents at seven years old in Africa and raised Muslim," she said. "“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."

Fanning added that the film had been directed by an Ethiopian and featured "many Ethiopian women," claiming that the film was about "what home means to people who find themselves displaced and the families and communities that they choose and that choose them."