Clarify the controversy surrounding “Queen Cleopatra” on Netflix

The role of Cleopatra attracted Elizabeth Taylor, Adele James and Angelina Jolie. (photo: Everett Collection, Netflix, Getty Images)

Coming to Netflix screens next month: Queen Cleopatra, a four-part “docudrama”, which includes interviews with experts as well as re-enactments and narration by Jada Pinkett Smith. But a heated debate about the actress as the iconic Egyptian ruler is here now.

Nearly three weeks before the film’s May 10 premiere, director Tina Graffy said she “became a target during filming.” Massive online hate campaignAnd an Egyptian lawyer File a legal complaint The series violates media laws and aims to “erase the Egyptian identity.”

Here’s a closer look:

Why are people so upset? And what do they say?

Their problem is that Adele James, who is of mixed heritage, has been cast in the role of the title character, while, at the same time, the series is partly executive produced by Smith. African queens, allowing the audience to learn about “the lives of captivating, daring queens who were not likely to have been part of their Western academic curriculum.” And there has been a backlash from people in Egypt and elsewhere, who say the series is historically inaccurate for a black woman to play the role.

Historians have debated the origin and ethnicity of Cleopatra, who ruled Egypt for 21 years, from 51 BC to 30 BC. Being Greek Macedonian by her father. In the acclaimed biography of Stacy Schiff Cleopatra: A Life, the author writes, that Cleopatra was Greek and “almost as Egyptian as Elizabeth Taylor.” The origin of the Queen’s mother is unknown.

How did the show respond?

Obviously, Netflix is ​​well aware of the criticism. A post on the broadcast TV show’s official blog reads, “The creative choice of casting an actor of mixed heritage to play Cleopatra is a nod to a centuries-old debate about the ruler’s race.” “During her reign, Egypt’s population was multicultural and multiethnic. Cleopatra’s ethnicity was unlikely to be documented, and the identities of her mother and paternal grandparents were unknown. Some speculate that she was an Egyptian woman, while others say she was Greek.”

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Also, race was not talked about then in the same way it is now.

Rebecca Foto-Kennedy, assistant professor in the Department of Classics at Denison University, said that “asking whether someone is ‘black’ or ‘white’ is outdated” time. She added that it “talks more about modern political investments than trying to understand antiquity in its own terms”.

Graffy herself wrote about Friday’s commotion diverse.

“While doing the research, I realized what a political action it was to see Cleopatra portrayed by a black actress. To me, the idea that people have gotten her so wrong before — historically, from Theda Bara to Monica Bellucci, and more recently, with Angelina Jolie and Gal Gadot in the running to play her – I mean, we had to make it more correct. “The search was on to find the right performer to bring Cleopatra into the 21st century.”

I also asked some interesting questions.

“Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a sister with pigment? And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white? Her proximity to whiteness seems to give her value, and it seems really important to some Egyptians.”

And the star of the series shared some of the hateful comments she received on social media, explaining that she blocked the offenders.

“If you don’t like acting, don’t watch the show,” she wrote on Twitter. “Or share a different (expert) opinion than yours. Either way, I’ve had and always will!”

What did people say about the women who previously portrayed Cleopatra?

James, of course, isn’t the first to play the woman who is still talked about around the world thousands of years after her death.

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Taylor, whose best-known portrayal, starred in the 1963 film Cleopatra, which suffered badly from a disastrous filming – in which Taylor and Richard Burton were paired – leading to it becoming the most expensive film of all time. Reviews for the film were mixed, but it topped the box office and eventually won four Academy Awards.

As told in South Florida Sun SentinelTaylor faced criticism for a different reason: She converted to Judaism before marrying Eddie Fisher. The fact that she was supportive of Israel meant that Egypt, which considered the country their enemy, banned her film.

Even earlier, actresses including Theda Bara (1917 Cleopatra) and Vivian Leigh (1945 Caesar and Cleopatra) played its part.

She’s not the first person to face backlash either.

Gal gadot came under fire in 2020 when she I got into the role For an unreleased movie. Angelina Jolie, who has long been linked to a movie based on Chef’s book, has been accused of “Whitening Hollywood.

The director behind the latest project defended her decision to cast her: “After so many pending auditions and countless trials, we found in Adele James an actress who could convey not only Cleopatra’s beauty, but her power as well. What historians can convey.” The confirmation is that Cleopatra was more likely to look like Adele than she ever was to Elizabeth Taylor.”

Queen Cleopatra Available Wednesday, May 10 on Netflix.

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