The life of Cleopatra VII Philopator, Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC, is still captivating even centuries after her rule.
Starting from the young age of 18 up until the mysterious circumstances surrounding her rumored death by suicide at 39, Cleopatra carried on the Ptolemaic dynasty with strength and the respect of her people for just over two decades. It’s probably for that reason and a plethora of others that her life story has been the subject of multiple Hollywood film projects, including one of the first six-reel feature films ever produced in the U.S. back in 1912. The most notable of course is probably the 1968 version with late Hollywood siren Elizabeth Taylor in the lead role.
Yeah, you heard that right: the Queen of Egypt was notoriously played by a white actress whose lineage is of British-American roots by way of London and Kansas. Far from the Northeast African empire that Cleopatra once ruled, no?
Well, it appears the Queen’s ethnicity is at the topic of discussion once again following the recent announcement of Netflix’s upcoming docuseries, Queen Cleopatra, which casted Black British actress Adele James as its coveted lead.
Narrated by Jada Pinkett-Smith, the series will be the first of an anthology that aims to tell the stories of prominent African queens. Sounds great on paper, but Cleopatra’s race has unfortunately made casting her a topic of high debate for as long as many can remember. On one hand there’s the cold hard fact that Egypt is in Africa, which would make it quite likely that she has some African lineage. On the other hand, she’s believed to have been born to the Macedonian Greek dynasty of the Ptolemies located in Ancient Greece, which some historians believe means she has little to no Egyptian ancestry. Still, there are many who believe wholeheartedly that she was Persian.
The theories surrounding Cleopatra being Black derive from her mother and maternal grandmother, who both were ironically all but erased from the history books. Sound familiar? As the race of Cleopatra gets heavily debated, take a look below at what director Tina Gharavi had to say in regards to the controversy surrounding her upcoming show, via Variety:
“Born in Iran, I am a Persian, and Cleopatra’s heritage has been attributed at one time or another to the Greeks, the Macedonians and the Persians. The known facts are that her Macedonian Greek family — the Ptolemaic lineage — intermarried with West Asian’s Seleucid dynasty and had been in Egypt for 300 years. Cleopatra was eight generations away from these Ptolemaic ancestors, making the chance of her being white somewhat unlikely. After 300 years, surely, we can safely say Cleopatra was Egyptian. She was no more Greek or Macedonian than Rita Wilson or Jennifer Aniston. Both are one generation from Greece.
Doing the research, I realized what a political act it would be to see Cleopatra portrayed by a Black actress. For me, the idea that people had gotten it so incredibly wrong before — historically, from Theda Bara to Monica Bellucci, and recently, with Angelina Jolie and Gal Gadot in the running to play her — meant we had to get it even more right. The hunt was on to find the right performer to bring Cleopatra into the 21st century.
Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister? And 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 last sentence is an extremely hot take that got many Egyptians talking on social media. With the series set to begin airing in just a matter of weeks on May 10, now’s definitely the time to be having these type of cultural conversations.
Watch the trailer for Netflix’s upcoming docuseries Queen Cleopatra below, and afterwards keep scrolling to tap into the great race debate going down on social media:
1. After the success of Cleopatra, Netflix brings you:
2. The Iranian Director of Queen Cleopatra, Tina Gharavi doubles down and describes Egyptians as “Black Arabs”. And then she went on blabbing about “Arab Invasions” Pathetic.
3. The entire narrative around Cleopatra being black is nothing more than American academics and media lying to America’s black population to make them feel better about themselves.
4. How do we tell Netflix that Egypt was politically irrelevant at the time of Cleopatra and Rome was the great power in the world?
5. This is getting beyond a joke now. Cleopatra was Macedonian Greek, known for their Nordic appearance. Why depict her as black? Bizarre 🤯
6. You’re making a documentary. Cleopatra’s ethnicity was not some irrelevant factor. Her first language was greek and she was the first of her royal line to even try and learn egyptian. She grew up culturally Greek in a majority Greek city.
7. Well, it seems Jada Pinkett Smith has folks all uptight because of her upcoming documentary on Netflix. It’s called #QueenCleopatra and it airs on May 10. The issue is, Cleopatra is shown as Black woman and some don’t like it. Personally, I can’t wait to see it! 👸🏾👸🏾👸🏾
8. According to archaeological research, this is what Cleopatra VII looked like.
9. The real Queen Cleopatra , Cleopatra and the ancient Egyptians are not black
10. Cleopatra is so overdone too, like if you want to tell a story about a black queen, here’s a list. -Amina- Warrior Queen of Zaria Nigeria -Kandake- Warrior Empress of Ethiopia -Yaa Asantewa- Ashanti Kingdom, Ghana -Queen Moremi– Ile-Ife Kingdom, Nigeria And many more.
11. Yes she was black and I stand on that!!! Stop trying to say Cleopatra was white because she was not!
12. I don’t wanna talk about this shit but i am sorry but what do expect us to do, clapping to you damn actions You can’t ruin the Egyptian history, cleopatra wasn’t black, ancient Egyptians weren’t black Fuck off Netflix
13. But y’all upset over Cleopatra being black, c’mon now 😂
14. No one speaks about how gal gadot is playing cleopatra and she’s not Greek or Egyptian either ?
15. At the age of 17, Cleopatra became Queen of Egypt and ruled until she was 39 years old. She was a polyglot, as she spoke nine languages, including Ancient Egyptian and the languages of the Parthians, Hebrews, Medes, Troglodytes, Syrians, Ethiopians, Kushite (Nubian) and Arabs. This meant that she was able to read any book in the world. She was also very knowledgeable in various subjects such as geography, history, astronomy, international diplomacy, mathematics, alchemy, medicine, zoology, economics, and more. Despite her many books being destroyed in a fire, some of her herbal remedies and beauty tips have survived. Additionally, her knowledge of languages allowed her to have access to numerous papyri that are now lost. Her influence on the sciences and medicine was highly esteemed in the early centuries of Christianity, making her an unparalleled figure in human history. #Africa