Dakota Fanning’s new movie, ‘Sweetness in the Belly’, seems like a bad idea

Armistice Day 2018

Well, this is something. This is the first promotional still from a film called Sweetness in the Belly. The still was released ahead of the film’s premiere at TIFF this year. When Deadline published it the still and first clip from the film, they wrote that Dakota Fanning plays “a White Ethiopian Muslim In Refugee Drama-Romance.” This is not quite true. Per Deadline:

Dakota Fanning stars as Lilly Abdal, who was orphaned in Africa as a child (of English parents) and escaped to the UK as a refugee, fleeing civil war in Ethiopia. In London, she embraces the Muslim immigrant community, attempting to reunite people with their scattered families. However, her mission isn’t purely selfless: a passionate lost love affair is revealed between her and an idealistic doctor.

Zee Mehari’s (Difret) feature, also starring Yahya Abdul Mateen – II, Kunal Nayyar and Peter Bankole, is based on the fiction novel by Camilla Gibb and is adapted for the screen by Laura Phillips (Combat Hospital). Director Mehari is Ethiopian and the actors speak a combination of English, Amharic and Arabic in the film.

[From Deadline]

This is based on a 2005 novel by Camilla Gibb, a white, English-born Canadian woman. The book won some book awards in its time, and to be fair, the film is not a Hollywood production, it’s been produced by Irish and Canadian companies. Does it make it any better or worse that the film’s source material is a book written by a white woman, and the book is about a white British woman at the “center” of a story about Ethiopia and Ethiopian people?

So, was this movie a good idea? I can see how there was an idea to adapt a well-liked novel into a film, but just the idea of Dakota Fanning some version of a white savior in Ethiopia…I can’t. Why. for what it’s worth, Dakota saw the outcry online and she posted this to social media. I can see her point too, and she and the filmmakers clearly saw the skepticism towards this film coming a mile away.

Armistice Day 2018

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood premiere at the Cannes film festival.

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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43 Responses to “Dakota Fanning’s new movie, ‘Sweetness in the Belly’, seems like a bad idea”

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  1. Case says:

    As much as I’m against the whole “white savior” complex Hollywood has, sometimes I think those of us who don’t have a right to be offended (in this case, those of us who aren’t Ethiopian) maybe need to step back. As Dakota mentions, it’s directed by an Ethiopian man. Who the heck are we to tell this man that his art is offensive to his own people?

    • Megan says:

      Why do movies about black people need to be told through the eyes of white people? I think that is a perfectly reasonable question for anyone to ask.

      • Case says:

        I completely agree, and unfortunately the only way stories will be told by those who deserve to tell their story is when people in power in Hollywood (white people) continue to push for more diverse and inclusive stories told from unique perspectives. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask, too. I’m definitely not saying it isn’t, and I’m genuinely cringing that my comment came across that way.

        I’m just saying that in this instance, I don’t think it’s right for non-Ethiopian people to claim that this story, directed by an Ethiopian man who I imagine approves of and is proud of the story he’s telling, is wrong for doing so because of the lead character. If he isn’t offended by it, I don’t feel it’s right to be offended on his behalf as someone who has no sense of what his life is like.

      • Kimberly says:

        I thought this was a story about a child that was abandoned in a foreign country and raised in that country until she is sent to her “home country”? And how she identifies with the place and people she spent most of her life around?

        Does no one see that and look at the current situation in our country? where they deport people who may have been born south of our border, but lived nearly all their life in the UsA? How these people identify themselves as Americans, then get sent to places that that they don’t identify with?

        I REALLY think people are too quick to jump and need to slow their rolls…

      • aiobhan targaryen says:

        kimberly@ stop. this line of thinking is a massive stretch.

        this is not the same type of story at all. she is white. her experience is not going to be similar to dreamers or other non citizens.

      • Charles says:

        Unfortunately, sometimes the only way a film can be made is if it is told through the POV of a white person. Perhaps the director understands this and will find a way to tell a unique story while using the white woman as a narrative device for storytelling. Just a thought.

    • Kitten says:

      I *tend* to agree that it’s not our place to decide what’s offensive. I also admit to having a really strong aversion to white savior trope because I find it completely cringe-worthy on so many levels.
      So as a white woman, I’m offended that white people are making movies representing us in that way when black folks should be telling their story. THAT I think we’re allowed to have an opinion about.

      I’m torn on this movie. I think Dakota’s explanation made it a bit better for me but again, it’s not really my place to say so I’m gonna sit and listen to our most excellent black commenters.

    • Chimney says:

      So unless we are also Ethiopian we have to step back and accept this nonsense? This industry is constantly centering white people in stories about PoC, it’s pathological. Having an Ethiopian director for a story written by a white woman doesn’t excuse that. Unless his direction was to shoot entirely around Dakota Fanning. Then I’d accept it.

    • tealily says:

      I kind of feel like we don’t have enough information yet to know if this is a “white savior” storyline or not. For once, I’ve read a description of a film and don’t really know where it’s going! I guess I’d be interested in seeing it… I’ll reserve judgment until then.

      • Kimberly says:

        I agree. I don’t think I’m alone in saying I’ve never read the book and neither have everyone posting ….

        and nope…wont stop @the person who told me to.I’m not some white,H&M shopping, pumpkin spice drinking person. I’ve dealt with the immigration problmes of this country. You’re part of the problem…slow ur roll lmao is pretty good advice towards a person talking about something they’ve never read lmao

    • serena says:

      I totally agree with you @Case and @Kimberly, still I’ll wait until the movie is out to judge.

  2. BlueSky says:

    i guess Scarlett Johansson wasn’t available??

    Sorry, it’s right there!

  3. Lilah casting says:

    Maybe people can wait until the movie comes out watch it and then give an informed opinion.

    • Kitten says:

      But we wanna rage.

    • SM says:

      This ^^^. Because otherwise we are risking of making art which by its form is intended to tell all kinds of stories, good and bad, question our conventions and our ways of thinking is compromised. No need to pigeonhole a movie just because: omg, white person dared to be part of a story in non white setting. This thinking results in more save products, which means we end up seeing white people in white surroundings, mainly focused on male characters. Because in this way the producers avoid this kind of criticism. If it succeeds in telling a story of what home actually mean in this very diverse world then I think it was worth making. If not, criticise it then.

      • aiobhan targaryen says:

        This is not challenging anything. It is just another story of a white person getting more focus in what hould be a majority brown person story. there is a legitimate story to tell about the story behind what led up to the ethiopian refugee crisis, and why so many people are being displaced. The fact that the ONLY way this book got made and the film got backing was because of the white girl at the center of it is part of the problem. There is nothing new or original about this story.

        No, i do not agree that this is a white savior story, but it is another instance that white peple cannot handle stories of brown and black people without having a white person shoe horned into it . The mental gymnastics that you and others like you have to go through to put out responses like yours is truly exhausting. Colonia, Narcos, that shit tasic film about Stonewall, Dangerous Minds, and on and on and on. If you care about art and originality how can you not see that this film has the same brush strokes as the other films I just mentioned.

    • tealily says:

      Agreed. It actually sounds like it may be an interesting film, and a story I haven’t heard yet. I’m willing to give it a shot before I hate on it.

    • Reece says:

      Was just about to type this.

  4. Birdie says:

    Was it autobiographical?

  5. Ashley says:

    Kind of reminds me of Tarzan who is also English, I don’t remember anyone getting offended by that story but peak 2019 is white people not being able to do anything right

    • Chimney says:

      If you are talking about the most recent adaptation of Tarzan then you must be mistaken because people def complained.

      • Valiantly Varnished says:

        Exactly. People on social media questioned why this story needed to be told again considering how antiquated and flat out racist it is.

    • Valiantly Varnished says:

      Yes white people are such victims. And using Tarzan as an example is just flat out disingenuous. That story was created in 1912. When people saw brown and black people as foreigners and savages. A lot has happened since then.

  6. Valiantly Varnished says:

    Why does every story about brown and black people have to be told through the eyes of a white person??
    This story doesn’t sound terrible – BUT – it’s just another version of the White Savior trope. And people need to really ask themselves why these stories can’t be told with whiteness being at the center of them.

    • Dig says:

      It was directed by an Ethiopian man, though.

      Who are you to say that it’s “through the eyes of a white person”?

      • Valiantly Varnished says:

        The book the film is based on was written by a white woman. And who am I to say “through the eyes of a white person”? A black MUSLIM woman. Now have a thousand seats.

  7. Dani says:

    I read the book, and if done correctly, it may not appears as a white savior type of thing. It really is about being displaced, not knowing where your home is etc. The book is decent, I would watch the movie. I don’t think white people have anything to be offended over. It’s not about us. If the Ethiopian people involved in the movie are okay with it and comfortable with the idea of it, then that’s that. There are tons of Ethiopian Jews who are often unrecognized and neglected who would appreciate a shot like this – to be shown, to be recognized.

    • aiobhan targaryen says:

      but this story is not about the ethipian jews being displaced. it is about a white girl being displaced and the brown people are secondary. If the tale is so uinversal the fanning girl could have been replaced with a black ethiopian muslim girl living in london and working to help settle other refugees. Her trying to balance work, being a muslima, and trying to make a home in a place that, at times, is far from hospitable to her. That is the more interesting story. not another story of a white person looking for a home. stop centering whiteness and remove the white girl and just tell the story of the brown people is what most of us are saying.

      Those ethipopian people are going to take whatever chances they can get, it does not mean they are fully accepting of the situation.

  8. Harryg says:

    That title is hideous! It’s hideous! Like “Her Smell” or whatever it was.

    • lucy2 says:

      Yeah that was a horrible title. This one isn’t quite so bad, but I agree it’s not good.

      As for this one, I’d be curious to hear more from the screenwriter and director, not just the main actor,

  9. Nina says:

    It’s not offensive, people need to chill tf down

  10. BringBackTheBlues! says:

    I guess there arent any white Muslim actresses out there to hire…..

    Almost as if Hollywood has a major Muslim stereotyping and trope issue. Cant have brown or even black Muslims be the good guys and worse, cant actually hire real Muslims to play Muslim roles; that would mean actually ending the hatred of Muslims and the anti-Muslim industry they depend on so much for all their movies and TV shows.

    So they’ll just hire a non-Muslim to play a Muslim like always and say they are being inclusive because the character is Muslim, even though you can practically count the Muslims that work in Hollywood on one hand.

    • Ennie says:

      They are probably not widely known. I googled quickly and there weren’t any I knew of. They have to sell the movie, it’s understandable. I think that if the movie is respectful, then it’s ok. Many actors portray people of different religions, or nationalities. Benicio del Toro as a Mexican or Colombian (not sure) character is just one of the latest.

  11. Ashley says:

    Saoirse was originally supposed to play the lead happen she dodged that bullet

  12. Lanne says:

    Timing is the issue that’s getting lost a bit. A novel about a white woman being displaced in London because she was raised in eithiopia could be a really interesting story. Perhaps it would have made a great film in 2009, perhaps it would be a great film in 2024. In the context of 2019, when we are challenging previously unchallenged cultural norms, perhaps the premise of the film doesn’t resonate. I’m not saying it should be censored. But when a film at first glance can be fit into a tired trope (white savior), are many people in 2019 willing to give it the benefit of the doubt when we’re still fighting to tell authentic stories from nonwhite perspectives? I’d rather give the benefit of my doubt to projects with new premises that haven’t been done to death. Again, this could be a great story on its own terms. Perhaps it needs to be framed more effectively if it is not indeed a white savior story. Or perhaps it needs more time to pass. Stories aren’t ripe fruit—they can keep. Lots of genuinely good films fail with audiences simply because they are released at the wrong time.

  13. Silvie says:

    I read this book a decade ago and it’s loosely based on the author’s personal story. It’s actually very beautiful and I learned a lot about the plight of refugees in London. It’s not really a savior story at all, the white woman is also a refugee and not in much of a great position to help the people she loves once she settles in London. So…