Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra Receives Mixed Reactions

“Queen Cleopatra” is a captivating 4-part documentary series that explores the life of one of the most renowned, influential, and often misunderstood figures in history, Cleopatra. The life of Cleopatra has been a topic of much discussion and myth. However, this docuseries aims to revaluate this aspect of her intriguing story, including her romantic life, in a fresh perspective. Additionally, the series is positioned to showcase Cleopatra’s intellect as one of her most potent assets.

The series trailer brought mixed reactions – especially from Egypt – with some noting that the actress and other cast members do not resemble the lighter-skinned and more European-looking Egyptians of Cleopatra’s time. The Egyptian government issued a statement from its Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, citing artefacts and coins from the time that suggest Cleopatra had a ‘light complexion’ with Greek ‘Hellenistic characteristics’. Dr. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Archaeology, called the Netflix project ‘a falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical misconception.’

Referring to the documentary series announced by Netflix over the coming period and in advance of Queen Cleopatra on May 10, in which its heroine, who plays Queen Cleopatra VII, has African features and dark skin, confirmed Dr. Mustafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Archeology, said “the appearance of the heroine in this body is a falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical misconception, especially that the film is classified as a documentary and not a drama. The order that the owners of its industry have to investigate accuracy and refer to historical and scientific facts in order to ensure that the history and civilizations of peoples is not falsified.”

Dr. Nasser Mekkawy, Head of the Egyptian Department of Archeology, Cairo University said, “Queen Cleopatra’s appearance in this film competes with the simplest historical facts and the writings of historians such as Plutarchus and Diocasius, who recorded the events of Roman history in Egypt in the reign of Queen Cleopatra, who affirmed that she was light-skinned and that she is pure Macedonian origins.”

The sentiment seems to be shared by Egyptians across the board with comedian Bassem Youssef noting, “everybody in that movie who is supposed to be Egyptian looks like they came from West Africa or the south of the Sahara. We as Egyptians are being called invaders and intruders in our own culture. This has been going on systematically,”

In an exclusive interview with Variety, the show’s director, Tina Gharayi says, “why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister? And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white? Her proximity to whiteness seems to give her value, and for some Egyptians it seems to really matter. After much hang-wringing and countless auditions, we found in Adele James an actor who could convey not only Cleopatra’s beauty, but also her strength. What the historians can confirm is that it is more likely that Cleopatra looked like Adele than Elizabeth Taylor ever did. …Perhaps, it’s not just that I’ve directed a series that portrays Cleopatra as Black, but that I have asked Egyptians to see themselves as Africans, and they are furious at me for that. I am okay with this.”

Speaking to Glamour Magazine, the docuseries star, Adele James said, “the only thing I can say about it [Cleopatra’s background] is that we just don’t know. There are versions of Cleopatra that exist already with actresses in that role who are fairer skinned than I am, but I think I have every right to have a shot at humanising this incredible woman. We all put our blood, sweat and tears into that show, and I think anybody else has as much of a right as anybody else to have a go at it because we just don’t know. But I guess my main thing is that there is no circumstance under which it is acceptable for anybody to treat me or anybody else the way that I and the cast and crew have been treated since the announcement. The death threats that I’ve received, the racist comments, it’s just the vitriol. It’s not necessary, and it’s very harmful. I feel very sad for people that they would do that to someone they don’t know or to someone they know.”

The series, produced by Jada Pinkett Smith and starring biracial British actor Adele James as Queen Cleopatra, was released on May 10. It is the second part of a Netflix docuseries on African queens, focused on female rulers from the African continent.


What do you think… Was Queen Cleopatra Black? White? Coloured? Should the colour of her skin matter, or should we be focusing instead on the fact that she was one of Africa’s greatest FEMALE rulers?

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