A few weeks ago, the announcement of one of Netflix’s upcoming releases was quick to spark controversy, generating noise online as a result of the questionable casting choices, more specifically the actors chosen to depict Cleopatra and her subjects in an upcoming docudrama.
Netflix’s decision to cast biracial actress and screenwriter, Adele James, as the former ruler of the Black Land is, according to many, factually incorrect, deeply inaccurate, and even an attempt to ”erase Egyptian history” per lawyer Mahmoud Al Semary, who went as far as filing a motion demanding government officials to block access to the US subscription-based streaming platform.
The substance matter, as put forward by prominent Egyptologist and former minister of state for antiquities, Zahi Hawass, centers itself around the claim that “Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not black” rendering the forthcoming project, which is spearheaded by Jada Pinkett Smith, historically and culturally erroneous to the eyes of millions.
Monopolizing debates in the public and private spheres of Egypt and abroad, the outrage seen online, which eventually spilled over IRL, has now prompted an Egyptian channel to take matters into its own hands and produce its own onscreen interpretation of events and history in a move that comes in total defiance towards Netflix amid all the backlash.
From what has been revealed so far, Al Wathaeqya, a state-sponsored TV station, will be leading the charge and has already pushed the dial forward by forming a committee of experts on history, archaeology, and anthropology to ensure utmost accuracy of the forthcoming documentary film. Although no release date has been announced as of right now, the upcoming project suggests that it will likely receive a significant amount of attention and resources to ensure its quality and authenticity in an effort to portray the life and reign of the queen in a more comprehensive and truthful manner than what has been depicted by Netflix.
The lack of consensus around Cleopatra’s ethnicity and physical features happens to be an ongoing point of contention between specialists, historians, and Egyptians themselves, with previous attempts at portraying one of the world’s most famous of rulers also causing turmoil and strife. In 2020, anger could be felt all across the Land of the Pharaohs following the casting of Gal Gadot to take on the role of the queen, with many pointing at how inappropriate it was for an Israeli actor to portray the iconic Egyptian ruler, particularly given the friction between the two countries.