Netflix has been accused of “blackwashing” history by casting a black actress as the historically Macedonian-Greek ruler.
The new docu-series, African Queens: Queen Cleopatra, stars black British actress Adele James as the Egyptian ruler. Producer Jada Pinkett Smith said she wanted to tell the story because “we don’t often see or hear stories about black queens.”
But the trailer released last week sparked a furious backlash over claims from historians that Cleopatra was black and had “curly hair.” One of the historians mentioned says, “I remember my grandmother saying to me: I don’t care what they tell you at school, Cleopatra was black.”
Egyptians have reacted with horror to the denial of documents proving Cleopatra was Macedonian-Greek. An Egyptian lawyer has filed a case with the country’s prosecutor demanding that Netflix be shut down.
Meanwhile, Cairo’s former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass denounced the documentary’s claims as “completely bogus.” Cleopatra was Greek, which means she had fair skin, not black.’
Hot water: Netflix has been forced to disable comments for the official trailer of the new Queen Cleopatra docu-series (Photo: Cleopatra, played by Adele James)
Controversy: The show, which airs May 10, depicts Cleopatra as black, despite historical records showing she was of Macedonian Greek descent
Hawass said the only rulers of Egypt known to be black were the Kushite kings of the 25th dynasty (747-656 BC).
“Netflix is trying to create confusion by spreading false and misleading facts that the origins of Egyptian civilization are black,” he added, calling on his compatriots to take a stand against the streaming giant.
Lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary filed a complaint with the prosecutor on Sunday, demanding that he take “necessary legal measures” to block access to Netflix.
He claimed the show contained content that violated Egyptian media laws and accused Netflix of “promoting Afrocentric thinking…including slogans and writings aimed at distorting and erasing Egyptian identity.”
The four-part series explores the legacy, intellect and life of Cleopatra VII, the Greek queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC.
The trailer notes that Cleopatra belonged to the Ptolemaic dynasty, but then disputes her parentage.
“It’s possible she was Egyptian,” says one expert, while another adds, “I remember my grandmother telling me, ‘I don’t care what they tell you at school, Cleopatra was black.’ ‘
The two-minute official trailer uploaded on April 12 has already been viewed more than 1.9 million times on YouTube.
Meanwhile, Netflix has been forced to disable comments on the official trailer after sparking controversy.
A Change.org petition to cancel the show has garnered more than 3,000 signatures. An earlier petition – which was removed – had more than 62,000 signatures.
Author Kemi Owonibi tweeted: “For the umpteenth time, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra was not an Egyptian.
‘She was Greek! Cleopatra VII was white – of Macedonian descent, as were all the rulers of Ptolemy, who lived in Egypt.’
Another added: “Netflix is - again – black washing a historically white character, this time it’s Queen Cleopatra who has been transformed into a black woman despite us knowing she was white – of Macedonian/Greek descent, just like all the rulers of the Ptolemy dynasty.’
A third said, “Cleopatra was NOT black, she was the GREEK queen of Egypt and is a wonderful link between Greek and Egyptian civilizations.”
Backlash: Twitter users reacted angrily after watching the trailer, with one calling it “theft of Egyptian history”
Egyptian actress and singer Somaya Elkhashab tweeted, “Identifying Queen Cleopatra as black for the fulfillment of modern African-American fantasies is sheer theft of Egyptian history yet an attempt to rewrite history’s greats.
“Blackwashing a Greek queen proves the obsession with white women and this would not help stop racism at all.”
However, another said, “Well it seems like Jada Pinkett Smith has people all on edge because of her upcoming documentary on Netflix. It’s called #QueenCleopatra and it airs on May 10.
“The problem is that Cleopatra is portrayed as a black woman and some people don’t like it. Personally, I can’t wait to see it!’
Cleopatra was famously played by white English actress Elizabeth Taylor opposite Richard Burton as Mark Anthony in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1963 historical epic.
Three years ago, plans for a new movie about the Queen starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot sparked a backlash from people who insisted the role go to an Egyptian or African actress.
Gadot defended the decision saying, “We were looking for a Macedonian actress to suit Cleopatra. She wasn’t there and I was very passionate about Cleopatra.’
Cleopatra was the companion of Alexander the Great, known for her marriages and affairs with Marc Antony and Julius Caesar.
Her first language was Greek, although she was the only Ptolemaic ruler to use the Egyptian language.
Actress Adele James previously responded by telling people not to watch the show if they don’t like the casting.
She tweeted, “FYI, this kind of behavior will not be tolerated because of me. You will be blocked without hesitation!!! If you don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show.
Leading role: Adele James, 37, plays Cleopatra and previously warned people not to ‘watch’ the show if they don’t like the casting
‘Or do & involve a different (expert) opinion than yours. Anyway, I’m GASSED and will always be!’
The official synopsis reads: “From executive producer Jada Pinkett Smith comes a new documentary series about the lives of prominent and iconic African queens.
This season will star Cleopatra, the world’s most famous, powerful and misunderstood woman – a daring queen whose beauty and romances eclipsed her real asset: her intellect.
Cleopatra’s heritage has been the subject of much academic debate, often ignored by Hollywood. Now our series is re-evaluating this fascinating part of her story.”
DailyMail.com has reached out to Netflix and Pinckett-Smith’s production company for comment.
Queen Cleopatra can be streamed on Netflix from May 10.