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Queen Cleopatra on Netflix has been surrounded by controversy, here’s why everyone is upset

‘It is a falsification of Egyptian history’


Before the new Queen Cleopatra documentary series dropped on Netflix, it was faced with a wave of controversy following the casting of the titular character.

The four-part documentary focuses on the life of Cleopatra and her reign as queen from 51 to 30 BC. She was the last Pharaoh of Egypt and is played by Adele James, something a lot of people have an issue with.

via Netflix

What is the controversy behind Queen Cleopatra on Netflix?

When the series was announced, a lawyer filed a complaint with Netflix that accused African Queens: Queen Cleopatra of violating media laws and aiming to “erase the Egyptian identity.”

Egyptologist Zahi Hawass told the al-Masry al-Youm newspaper: “This is completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not black.”

“Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilisation is black,” he added.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities weighed in on the discourse

The Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), which is responsible for Egypt’s cultural heritage and its archaeological sites published a press release last month “confirming” Queen Cleopatra had light skin and Hellenistic features

SCA Secretary General Mostafa Waziri addressed the claims of “historical falsification” in a statement.

“The appearance of the heroine is a falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical fallacy, especially since the film is classified as a documentary film and not a dramatic work, which requires those in charge of its production to investigate accuracy and rely on historical and scientific facts to ensure that history and civilizations are not falsified,” he said.

Wazari denied the backlash towards James’ casting was due to racism and said the backlash “sparked out of defence of the history of Queen Cleopatra VII”.

He continued: “[The backlash is] far from any ethnic racism, with full respect for African civilizations and for our brothers in the African continent that brings us all together.”

Adele James has received racial abuse as a result of her casting

via Netflix

Following the controversy of her being cast in the series, Adele James received a load of racial abuse from trolls. Sharing the screenshots she received on her social media, Adele wrote: “Just FYI, this kind of behaviour won’t be tolerated on my account. You will be blocked without hesitation!

Following the controversy of her being cast in the series, Adele James received a load of racial abuse from trolls. Sharing the screenshots she received on her social media, Adele wrote: “Just FYI, this kind of behaviour won’t be tolerated on my account. You will be blocked without hesitation!

Netflix has explained its decision to cast Adele James as Queen Cleopatra. “During the time of her reign, Egypt’s population was multicultural and multiracial,” the streamer wrote.

“Cleopatra’s race was unlikely to be documented, and the identities of her mother and paternal grandparents weren’t known. Some speculate she was a native Egyptian woman, while others say she was Greek.”

via Netflix

The producers of the show released a statement following the backlash

In a statement posted on Netflix, the show’s producers emphasised the focus of the documentary was to portray Cleopatra as a “powerful woman”.

“Working with leading historians and experts including Shelley Haley (Professor of Classics and African Studies, Hamilton College) and Dr. Sally-Ann Ashton (Cleopatra scholar), we explore Cleopatra’s story as a queen, strategist, ruler of formidable intellect as well as a woman whose heritage is the subject of great debate,” they said.

“Her ethnicity is not the focus of Queen Cleopatra, but we did intentionally decide to depict her of mixed ethnicity to reflect theories about Cleopatra’s possible Egyptian ancestry and the multicultural nature of ancient Egypt.”

Queen Cleopatra is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops, quizzes and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook. 

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