A new Netflix docudrama, African Queens: Queen Cleopatra, depicting the ancient Egyptian ruler Queen Cleopatra as a Black African, has caused debate in the country. A lawyer has even filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, accusing the show of violating media laws and seeking to “erase the Egyptian identity”.
Adele James, the mixed-race British actress playing the Queen, told critics: “If you don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show.” She commented on the controversy in a Twitter post that included screenshots of abusive comments, some of which were racist.
In February this year, Netflix’s companion site Tudum, reported that the choice to cast James as Cleopatra in the series was “a nod to the centuries-long conversation about the ruler’s race”.
According to the BBC, though, a “top archaeologist” has insisted that Cleopatra was “light-skinned, not black”. The show’s producer has contested this, saying: “her heritage is highly debated”.
Elsewhere, Jada Pinkett Smith, the actor who serves as executive producer and narrator for the show, reportedly said: “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!”
Zahi Hawass, a renowned Egyptologist and former antiquities minister told the al-Masry al-Youm newspaper: “This is completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not black.” He said the country’s only rulers known to have been Black were the Kushite kings of the 25th Dynasty. It lasted from 747 to 656 BC
“Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilisation is black,” he added, calling on Egyptians to stand up against the streamer.
On Sunday, April 16th, the lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary, filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, demanding they take “the necessary legal measures”, and block access to Netflix in Egypt.
He claimed that the series includes material and content that violates Egypt’s media laws, accusing Netflix of attempting to “promote the Afrocentric thinking… which includes slogans and writings aimed at distorting and erasing the Egyptian identity”.