Egypt is in turmoil over the Netflix documentary Queen Cleopatra, in which British actress Adele James, who is of mixed ancestry, portrays the first-century Egyptian pharaoh as a queen with African roots. This incident has then sparked criticism all over Egypt.
The claim that Cleopatra was “light-skinned, not black” was made by a renowned archaeologist. According to several Egyptian academics, Cleopatra came from a Greek-speaking dynasty. She wasn’t black, she was of European origin. Moreover, African Queens: Queen Cleopatra is charged with violating media rules in a case filed by a lawyer.
Netflix accused of “blackwashing” history amidst Queen Cleopatra’s release
The biography of Cleopatra, the famed queen of ancient Egypt, is the subject of a Netflix docudrama. It has sparked debate over its casting decisions, particularly because a Black woman played the role.
The series is being criticized for not adhering to factual accuracy while being advertised as a documentary. Additionally, some have charged Netflix with “blackwashing” history by introducing a Black character without considering historical authenticity.
- People in Egypt are outraged over this, claiming that it amounts to cultural appropriation and a distorting of their past.
- In a lengthy statement, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities emphasizes that Queen Cleopatra had light skin and Hellenistic (Greek) features. They then condemned Netflix for choosing Adele James, who possesses “African features and dark skin.”
Egyptologist Disputes Cleopatra’s Heritage
- The renowned Egyptologist Zahi Hawass vehemently opposed the idea that Cleopatra was of mixed racial heritage. He said, “This is completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not Black”.
- According to Mr. Hawass, the Kushite monarchs of the 25th Dynasty were the only kings of Egypt known to have been black.
- He then said, “Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilization is black”.
Legal Measures Taken
- The public prosecutor was served with a complaint from attorney Mahmoud al-Semary. He even requested that “the necessary legal measures” need to be taken and access to Netflix’s services in Egypt needs to be blocked.
- Furthermore, he accused Netflix of trying to “promote Afrocentric thinking which includes slogans and writings aimed at distorting and erasing the Egyptian identity”.
What did Netflix and the show’s producers say?
- The decision to cast Adele James as Queen Cleopatra in the series was “a nod to the centuries-long conversation about the ruler’s race”.
- According to the show’s creator, there is no doubt that Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, was a Macedonian-Greek. However, historians suggest that Cleopatra’s mother might have been an Egyptian native or from another region of Africa. This is because her identity is still unknown.
- The producer explained this by saying “her heritage is highly debated”. Actor Adele James has used Twitter to address naysayers, “If you don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show.”
Just FYI, this kind of behaviour won’t be tolerated on my account. You will be blocked without hesitation!!!
If you don’t like the casting don’t watch the show. Or do & engage in (expert) opinion different to yours. Either way, I’M GASSED and will continue to be! 🕺🏽🕺🏽🕺🏽 pic.twitter.com/zhJjaUkxyc
— Adele James (@Adele_JJames) April 13, 2023
The American actress Jada Pinkett Smith said “We don’t often get to see or hear stories about black queens. And that was really important for me, as well as for my daughter, and just for my community to be able to know those stories because there are tons of them”. Smith served as the executive producer and narrator of the show.
Who was Cleopatra?
From the time Alexander the Great died in 323 BC until Octavian conquered Egypt in 30 BC, Cleopatra VII was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Moreover, she had Macedonian-Greek origins. Cleopatra is honored for her brilliant diplomacy and personal charisma. She used it to preserve Egypt’s independence amidst the enlarging Roman Empire, throughout her 21-year rule. Her suicide signaled the demise of Egyptian civilization as a thriving, enduring society.
Cleopatra’s narrative has been recounted in popular literature and cinema throughout the years, frequently depicting her as a seductive temptress. As a result, she has captured the attention of historians and the general public alike.
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