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Netflix's Cleopatra docudrama series angers Egyptians for her Black African depiction

By NICK GARCIA Published Apr 21, 2023 12:40 pm

A Netflix docudrama series depicting Queen Cleopatra as a Black African has angered Egyptians, prompting a lawyer to file a lawsuit against the streaming giant.

BBC reported that many Egyptians condemn the African Queens: Queen Cleopatra for trying to "erase the Egyptian identity." Lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary also accused Netflix of violating their media laws, and wants to block its services in Egypt.

Zahi Hawass, a renowned archeologist who specializes in Egyptology, previously told local newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that Cleopatra was Greek and "light-skinned, not black."

He noted that the only black Egyptian rulers were the Kushite kings of the 25th Dynasty (747 to 656 BC).

"Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilization is black," he said, as he urged Egyptians to take a stand.

But Jada Pinkett Smith, who served as the series executive producer and narrator, said Cleopatra's heritage is "highly debated," according to BBC.

Smith also noted that people "don't often get to see or hear stories about black queens," something that, she said, is "really important" for her, her daughter, and her community.

Adele James, a mixed race British actress who portrayed the queen, meanwhile told critics not to watch the show if they don't like the casting. James made the comment via a Twitter post with screenshots of anonymous users writing racial slurs against her.

Cleopatra was born in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in 69 BC. She was the last queen of a Greek-speaking dynasty founded by Alexander the Great's Macedonian general Ptolemy.

She succeeded her father Ptolemy XII in 51 BC and ruled until her death in 30 BC. Egypt fell under the Romans afterward.

The identity of Cleopatra's mother isn't known, and historians have said that it's possible for Cleopatra or her female ancestors to have been an indigenous Egyptian or from elsewhere in Africa.

For its part, Netflix's companion site Tudum reported that the choice to cast James was "a nod to the centuries-long conversation about the ruler's race."

This isn't the first time that a film about Cleopatra sparked controversy. In 2020, a biopic about the princess should've starred Israeli actress Gal Gadot. Her casting, however, fueled whitewashing accusations.