Egyptian academics are up in arms over the upcoming Netflix docudrama Queen Cleopatra, which features British actress Adele James playing the first-century Egyptian ruler as a queen with African roots.
The academics claim that Cleopatra was of European descent and not Black, and they are demanding that legal measures are taken to block Netflix in Egypt to prevent the show from airing.
The show’s trailer has sparked debate in the country, with some prominent Egyptologists disputing the possibility that Cleopatra was of mixed race.
The Queen’s Heritage
Cleopatra, who was born in Alexandria in 69 BC and belonged to a Greek-speaking dynasty, was Macedonian-Greek on her father Ptolemy XII’s side, a fact that scholars agree on.
However, the ethnic origin of her mother is not known, and some historians say it’s possible that the Egyptian ruler’s mother was African and that she could have been of mixed heritage.
This has led to centuries-long debates about Cleopatra’s ethnicity, and it is a nod to this conversation that led to the choice of casting Adele James in the lead role.
The Uproar in Egypt
Egyptian academics have been quick to denounce the show, with one lawyer reportedly filing a complaint demanding that Netflix be blocked outright in Egypt to prevent the show from airing.
They claim that the docudrama, which drops on May 10, violates the country’s media laws.
The show has also drawn the ire of Zahi Hawass, a prominent Egyptologist, who disputes the possibility that Cleopatra was of mixed race.
“This is completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not Black,” he said.
The Choice of Casting
The choice of casting Adele James, who is of mixed heritage, as Cleopatra in Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra has also been called into question.
However, Jada Pinkett Smith, the show’s executive producer, defended the decision on Netflix’s promotional website Tudum in February.
She said that since the queen’s heritage has been debated, it was “a nod to the centuries-long conversation about the ruler’s race.”
Pinkett Smith also noted that it was essential to have representation and to highlight the stories of Black queens.
Actor Adele James has also responded to the critics, telling them that if they don’t like the casting, they don’t have to watch the show.
Debates over the Representation of Cleopatra
This isn’t the first time that debates over how Cleopatra should be represented on screen have sparked controversy.
Plans for a movie starring Israeli actor Gal Gadot as the iconic Egyptian queen prompted debate, with critics saying the role should go to an Arab or African actor. The movie has not been made.