What’s the deal with Cleopatra’s ethnicity? Apparently, the casting of a Black actress to play the Egyptian ruler in the upcoming Netflix series “African Queens” has got some folks in Egypt all riled up. Adele James, a mixed-heritage British actress takes on the role but some people are claiming that Cleopatra, who was born in Egypt to a Greek-speaking dynasty, wasn’t actually Black but of European descent.
Adele James, a mixed-heritage British actress playing the Egyptian ruler Cleopatra in Netflix’s “African Queens” causes controversy in Egypt with locals and academics arguing over the queen’s ethnicity.
In response to all the hullabaloo, the Egyptian government-owned broadcaster Al Wathaeqya has announced the production of its own big-budget documentary about Cleopatra, claiming it will be based on the “utmost levels” of research and accuracy. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has also weighed in, stating that statues of the queen confirm that she had “Hellenistic (Greek) features” like light skin, a drawn-out nose and thin lips.
It’s not just the government and academics getting in on the action, though. Comedian Bassem Youssef has accused Netflix of trying to “take over our Egyptian culture,” while an Egyptian lawyer has filed a complaint to block Netflix outright in Egypt. Whoa, calm down folks, it’s just a TV show.
The director of “African Queens,” Tina Gharavi, defended the casting in an op-ed piece for Variety. Gharavi asked why some people need Cleopatra to be white and argued that portraying her as Black encourages Egyptians to see themselves as Africans.
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Regardless of the debate, “African Queens” is set to stream on Netflix from May 10. Whether or not Cleopatra was Black, the series promises to be an intriguing look into the lives of influential African queens including the one and only Cleo.
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