Egypt is not happy with Netflix. Its Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) is accusing the network of misrepresenting history with its casting of a Black woman as Cleopatra in its upcoming docudrama, Queen Cleopatra, which is narrated and executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith. Adele James—a British actress of mixed ancestry—was cast as the lead in the miniseries that is set to debut on May 10, sparking backlash in Egypt and calls for Netflix to be banned. A Stop the Cleopatra Documentary on Netflix due to historical falsification” has racked up over 40,000 signatures. “The Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities confirms that Queen Cleopatra had light skin and Hellenistic (Greek) features,” the SCA said in a statement posted online.
“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,” said SCA Secretary General Mostafa Waziri. “The rejection experienced by the film before it comes out is sparked out of defense of the history of Queen “Cleopatra VII”, which is an important and authentic part of the ancient history of Egypt, and far from any ethnic racism, with full respect for African civilizations and for our brothers in the African continent that brings us all together”. Waziri points to statues of Queen Cleopatra are the best proof that Cleopatra was white, though legend has left the color of her skin open to interpretation. The producers of the show say that her ethnicity is not the focus, but it continues, “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.” “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,” read the statement posted by Netflix. In a Twitter post, James said, “If you don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show.”