Egypt to produce big budget Cleopatra documentary following Netflix docuseries controversy

The trailer of a coming docuseries has been met with outrage over the casting of a black actress in the role of the ancient Egyptian queen

Netflix has sparked outrage in Egypt over its casing of Adele James as Queen Cleopatra. Photo: Netflix
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Following a wave of public outrage in Egypt over the recent casting of a black actress in the role of Cleopatra, an Egyptian television channel announced that it is producing a big-budget documentary film.

A committee of experts on history, archaeology and anthropology has been formed to ensure the film, titled Cleopatra, is “as historically accurate as possible”, a representative for the Al Wathaeqya channel, a subsidiary of the state-affiliated United Media Services, said.

Many Egyptians were angered by the trailer for the coming second season of the Netflix docuseries African Queens, which this season will focus on Cleopatra. The first season, which was widely watched, was about Njinga, a West African queen who ruled the Ambundu Kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The trailer of the second season states that Cleopatra, whose race has long been a point of discussion among scholars, was black African.

Since it was released, the trailer has been lambasted on Egyptian social media channels and by prominent personalities, including comedian and political dissident Bassem Youssef, who last week appeared in a televised interview with British journalist Piers Morgan to decry what he called the distortion and appropriation of Egyptian culture.

The producer of the series, Jada Pinkett Smith, who narrates the episodes, has also been accused by critics of promoting Afrocentric ideas at the expense of historical accuracy. Smith is yet to make a public statement on the matter.

Among the critics was the country's former Minister of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, who asserted that Cleopatra was of Greek origin and called the series “completely fake”.

Hawass, a longtime critic of Afrocentrism, warned of a growing tendency by black Americans to depict Egyptian pharaohs as black.

He cited several pharaonic paintings that show ancient Egyptians standing side-by-side with black Africans with distinguishable physical features.

Furthermore, the secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri, issued a statement last week saying that Cleopatra has been depicted on coins and statues that clearly show her features, which he says were not black African by any means.

A release date for the coming series has not been announced.

Updated: May 03, 2023, 6:07 AM