Netflix‘s forthcoming project, African Queens: Queen Cleopatra, has caused a stir among Egyptian experts for depicting her as Black.
Several experts argue Cleopatra was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 69 B.C. and belonged to a Greek-speaking dynasty. Variety reported that they also stated the queen was of European descent and not Black.
Jada Pinkett Smith, 51, narrates and executive produced the upcoming drama/docuseries hybrid, featuring actress Adele James, 27, a biracial U.K. native, to play the queen of Egypt. Pinkett Smith discussed the project and why she wanted to add Cleopatra to the list of historic Black women in the docuseries.
“This particular project went through many different machinations, but it started with Willow. … I really wanted to represent Black women,” Pinkett Smith told Netflix’s Tudum in February.
She continued, “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! The sad part is that we don’t have ready access to these historical women who were so powerful and were the backbones of African nations.”
Although the drama is a nod to significant Black women in history, Egyptologist Zahi Hawass claimed the project is a “completely fake” portrayal of the queen; she was Greek and “not Black,” he said, according to the New York Post.
He also claimed the streaming service was “trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilization is [Black].”
Additionally, the country has taken legal action against Netflix and accused the streamer of encouraging “Afrocentric thinking” to erase the “Egyptian identity,” per the newspaper.
Despite the film’s excessive criticism, expert Sally Ann Ashton pushed back on the claims that Cleopatra wasn’t a Black woman and was “wholly European.”
“Given that Cleopatra represents herself as an Egyptian, it seems strange to insist on depicting her as wholly European,” Ashton, who appears in the series, said. “Cleopatra ruled in Egypt long before the Arab settlement in North Africa. If the maternal side of her family were indigenous women, they would’ve been African, and this should be reflected in contemporary representations of Cleopatra.”
Last week, James took to Twitter and clapped back at those who criticized her casting as the queen in the series.
Just FYI, this kind of behaviour won’t be tolerated on my account. You will be blocked without hesitation!!!
If you don’t like the casting don’t watch the show. Or do & engage in (expert) opinion different to yours. Either way, I’M GASSED and will continue to be! 🕺🏽🕺🏽🕺🏽 pic.twitter.com/zhJjaUkxyc
— Adele James (@Adele_JJames) April 13, 2023
African Queens: Queen Cleopatra premieres on Netflix on May 10.