Netflix has found itself at the center of a debate over the casting of Cleopatra in a new documentary series.
The four-part documentary will appear on the streaming service in May Queen Cleopatra (a part of African queens series) examines the life of the Egyptian ruler.
The series is narrated by actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who said she wants to use the show to “represent Black women.”
“We don’t often see or hear stories about black queens…the sad part is that we don’t have direct access to these historical women who were so powerful and were the backbone of African nations,” she told NetflixTudum in February.
In Queen Cleopatrathe ruler is represented by Accident Star Adele James, who is biracial. Her casting has sparked debate in Egypt as the racial identity of the real-life Cleopatra is disputed.
Cleopatra was born in 69 BC. born in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, entered 51 BC. succeeded her father Ptolemy XII and reigned until her death in 30 BC.
The identity of Cleopatra’s mother is unknown, leading historians to believe that she may have been Egyptian or from another part of Africa. However, others have suggested that her mother may have been Greek, as her race has never been documented.
On Sunday (April 16), days after the release of the Queen Cleopatra trailer, attorney Mahmoud al-Semary filed a complaint, urging prosecutors to take “the necessary legal action” and restrict access to Netflix’s services in to lock down Egypt.
Discussing the Netflix show, Egypt’s former antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, told the Egyptian press (via BBC News): “This is a complete fake. Cleopatra was Greek, which means she was fair, not black.”
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Sharing screenshots of racial abuse she received on Twitter, James wrote last week: “FYI this type of behavior is not tolerated on my account. You will be blocked without hesitation!!!
“If you don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show. Or make and engage in a different (expert) opinion than yours. Either way, I AM GASED and will remain so!”
Netflix Queen Cleopatra does not ignore the debate about Cleopatra’s legacy.
The broadcaster said the casting of James was “a nod to the centuries-old debate about the ruler’s race”.
“During her reign, Egypt’s population was multicultural and multiracial,” it said. “Cleopatra’s race was unlikely to have been documented, and the identities of her mother and paternal grandparents were unknown. Some speculate that she was Egyptian by birth, while others say she is Greek.”
Sally Ann Ashton, an academic interviewed for the series, said: “Given that Cleopatra portrays herself as Egyptian, it seems strange to insist on portraying her as entirely European.
“Cleopatra ruled in Egypt long before the Arab colonization of North Africa. If the maternal side of her family were indigenous women, they would have been African and this should be reflected in contemporary depictions of Cleopatra.”
Queen Cleopatra will be released on Netflix on May 10th.