Sweetness in the Belly is an Irish Canadian produced film based on Canadian author Camilla Gibbs’ novel by the same title. The film's director is Ethiopian-born Zeresenay Berhane Mehari. Although the story feels very current, it moves between 1962 and 1975.
Lilly (Dakota Fanning), the main character, is born in Morocco to her Irish nomadic parents. They are caught up in a drug conflict, abandoning Lilly at Sufi Seminary in the care of the Great Abdul, never to return. Lilly grows up immersed in the Muslim faith.
Fast-forward to 1975. Lilly now lives in Ethiopia. That country is beginning to crumble under the threat of civil war as Haile Selassie’s reign is confronted by the communist militia junta, the Derg. Lilly joins a throng of women and children boarding a bus in the wake of the unrest, fleeing for refuge in the United Kingdom. Once in the UK, the women seek to build new lives, all the while longing and searching for the loves they have left behind, the ‘sweetness in their bellies.’
There is much to like and consider in this movie even as it falls short. The narrative fails to achieve a balance in the telling of this slice of history. Lilly’s story as a white woman takes precedence over the stories of the Black women and men who shape her entire life. And yet it might be a true micro look at a macro story. Lilly as a white woman in a minority position receives privilege whether she invites it or not. It’s a good discussion starter for film groups and high school-aged teens. (Ages 13 +, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Hulu)