Mere days after it made its premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the newly adopted film from the 2005 novel, Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb is bringing unintended controversy, accused of whitewashing an Ethiopian story on social media, prompting the main actress to respond.
"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," the 25 year old American actress Dakota Fanning said in a statement. My character, Lilly, journeys to Ethiopia and is caught-up in the breakout of a 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, and is directed by an Ethiopian man and features many Ethiopian women."
The film, produced by Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, part founder of Kana TV and known for directing and producing 'Difret'; a movie loosely based on a young abused woman accused of murdering her rapist. This had also stirred its own controversy, when the woman whose story was featured in the film, brought legal actions against the film and the producer.
The new film tells a story of a London native, who was raised as a Muslim in Harar after her parents', described as hippies abandoned her in Ethiopia and ended-up being raised as an Ethiopian in Harar.
Saoirse Ronan, an actress who was supposed to play the role before leaving the cast was replaced by Fanning.
Hoping that the backlash would end and be something useful for those looking for a sense of belonging, Fanning said that, "The film is about what home means to people who find themselves displaced and the families and communities that they choose."