Cleopatra is said to have died over 2000 years ago after she ruled as the last Pharaoh of Egypt. Though her ancestry is said to be Greek, the color of her skin portrayed in a new Netflix four-part drama-documentary is being challenged by the Egyptian antiquities ministry.
The role of the ancient queen is played by Adele James, an actress of mixed heritage. In a statement responding to the Netflix project, Egyptian experts were adamant Cleopatra had “white skin and Hellenistic characteristics,” per The Guardian.
“Bas-reliefs and statues of Queen Cleopatra are the best proof,” the ministry said with illustrations depicting Cleopatra as a woman with European features.
Mostafa Waziri, who is the head of the Supreme Antiquities Council, also said portraying Cleopatra as Black is “a falsification of Egyptian history,” and claimed his sentiments were not racist, adding that his opinion is spurred by “defending the history of Queen Cleopatra, an important part of the history of Egypt in antiquity.”
Responding to the controversy in a statement, James tweeted, “If you don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show.”
“Her ethnicity is not the focus of [the series] 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,” Netflix Tudum also said in a statement.
The executive producer of the show, Jada Pinkett Smith, also added: “We don’t often get to see or hear stories about black queens, and that was really important for me … 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.”
Born in the earlier part of 69 BC to Ptolemaic pharaoh Ptolemy XII Auletes and an unknown mother, Cleopatra’s ancestry is disputed to be Greek, Persian, and Ptolemaic – Ptolemies were not documented as intermingling with Egyptians, Face2Face Africa previously reported in an opinion piece.
Cleopatra’s rise started after a revolt in 58 BC when she accompanied her father, Ptolemy XII, to Rome. Berenice IV, Cleopatra’s sister then ascended the throne in Egypt. However, in 55 BC, Ptolemy XII, reclaimed the seat in Egypt with the help of Roman military forces; after which Berenice was also killed.
In 51 BC, Ptolemy XII died, leaving Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy VIII, as co-rulers.