For years, many scholars have debated the skin colour and race of Cleopatra VII. Since it was announced that a black actor, Adele James, would be playing the Hellenistic ruler in a new Netflix series, African Queens, many Egyptian academics have expressed dissatisfaction with this decision.
The Jada Pinkett Smith-produced show will portray the Egyptian ruler as possessing African ancestry, yet, many people believe she had European roots. Smith (via Tudum) said the decision to cast James was “a nod to the centuries-long conversation about the ruler’s race.”
She added, “We don’t often get to see or hear stories about Black queens, and that was really important for me, as well as for my daughter, and just for my community to be able to know those stories because there are tons of them!”
Now, the Al Wathaeqya channel has spoken out about Smith’s decision, seeing it as a distortion of Egyptian history, leading them to announce their own production about Cleopatra. The company have insisted that their version of events will be based on “utmost levels” of research.
In an opinion piece for Variety, the show’s director, Tina Gharavi, asked, “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.”
The director continued, “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.”