Actress Dakota Fanning is experiencing intense social media backlash for her latest movie role — a Muslim refugee from Ethiopia.
The criticism has been so intense that Fanning has defended herself against accusations of whitewashing and cultural appropriation, clarifying on social media that her character is a white woman who happens to be from Africa.
“I do not play an Ethiopian woman,” the actress wrote in a message posted on Instagram. “I play a British woman abandoned by her parents at seven years old in Africa and raised Muslim.”
Her Instagram post reportedly went live Wednesday but appears to have been deleted.
Fanning stars in a big-screen adaptation of Camilla Gibb’s 2005 novel Sweetness In the Belly, which is set to premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Fanning plays the child of British parents who is orphaned and raised as a Muslim in Africa. She later flees Ethiopia and settles in the United Kingdom, where she becomes part of the Muslim community in London.
While the movie hasn’t opened commercially, an online clip and photos have elicited strong social media reaction against the award-winnning actress.
Hend Amry, the writer and social media activist, wrote: “Just yesterday I was saying, you know who would best represent the contemporary refugee experience in Africa? Dakota Fanning.”
This is so coincidental – just yesterday I was saying, you know who would best represent the contemporary refugee experience in Africa? Dakota Fanning. https://t.co/asMJowvdhb
— hend amry (@LibyaLiberty) September 4, 2019
“So many talented Muslim actors out there and you cast… Dakota Fanning?” wrote another.
so many talented Muslim actors out there and you cast… Dakota Fanning???????????????????? and to play an ETHIOPIAN?????????????? I BEG YOUR PARDON??????????????? https://t.co/XAgs6y2G98
— Muhammad Butt (@muhammadbutt) September 4, 2019
Some have compared Fanning’s casting to the controversies around Scarlett Johansson, who was criticized for her role in the 2017 movie Ghost in the Shell, in which she played a Japanese cyborg, and the movie Rub & Tug, in which she was supposed to play a transgender man. She later dropped the role following criticism from the LGBTQ community.
Dakota Fanning coming for that Scarlett Johansson loot https://t.co/B90WwWEJn1
— Mohammed Harun Arsalai (@ArsalaiM) September 4, 2019
Fanning said in her Instagram post that the new movie involves artistic talent from Ethiopia.
“This film was partly made in Ethiopia, is directed by an Ethiopian man and features many Ethiopian women,” wrote the actress.
Sweetness in the Belly is currently seeking U.S. distribution. It is scheduled to have its premiere Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival.