Move over, Gal Gadot: Five actors of Arab descent who could have played Cleopatra

Should an actress from the region play the role of the ancient Egyptian queen, who came from Macedonian-Greek heritage?

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The news of an upcoming biopic about Cleopatra has gained a mixed reception.

While the idea of a new generation savouring the heroics and political nous of the ancient Egyptian queen is welcome, it is the choice of Israeli star Gal Gadot in the titular role causing ire.

There is no doubt Gadot, who starred in 2017's blockbuster Wonder Woman, is an accomplished star in her own right, but some social media users railed against the choice due to her background.

A majority applauded the move in an Instagram poll taken by The National; however, some respondents disapproved of the casting, stating an actress of Arab descent should play the role instead.

While such a notion would be ideal, this is Hollywood we are talking about and Gadot is one of the industry’s most bankable stars. It also raises the theoretical question: if Gadot wasn’t in the frame, does the Arab world have stars of its own with sufficient stature to be considered for such an ambitious project?

It is also worth noting that Cleopatra, who was born in Egypt, came from Macedonian-Greek heritage, meaning for true authenticity, the casting call could have been spread far and wide.

With Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins signed on for the film, it is also safe to assume her take on Cleopatra's storied life will be less melodrama and more action blockbuster, complete with lavish set pieces that demand a certain degree of physicality from its star.

While Gadot has certainly proved herself to possess those qualities, the region does have its own array of talent to give her a run for the money.

Here are five actors of Arab descent that could have also brought Cleopatra to life:

1. Salma Hayek

A popular choice from The National's survey, Hayek – whose background is a mix of Mexican and Lebanese – certainly has the acting and physical chops. When it comes to the latter, her 30-year career is full of action turns, such as her breakout role in 1995's Desperado, 2014's Everly and 2017's box-office hit, The Hitman's Bodyguard.

Hayek has also built a career playing formidable and complex women, such as her Oscar-nominated role as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in Frida and her chilling take as fictional drug baron Elena Sanchez in the 2012 drama Savages.

The only thing that could have gone against Hayek for the role of Cleopatra is her age. At 54, Hayek is older than the queen, who died aged 39, ever got to be. But let’s not write her off the project just yet. Depending on how sweeping the script is, Hayek could be a great choice to play Cleopatra VI Tryphaena, long presumed by historians to be Cleopatra’s mother.

2. Yasmine Al Massri

Born in Beirut to a Palestinian father and Egyptian mother, Yasmine Al Massri's career is defined as much by talent as shrewd career choices.

Eschewing the option of entering the Arab television industry, Al Massri, 44, made her film debut in the critically lauded drama Caramel, which earned her an appearance at both the Cannes and Abu Dhabi Film Festivals.

She then made a successful move to the US and starred in a range of action-filled television series including a regular roles in Crossbones (2014), a two-year stint in Quantico and a starring role in an episode of the top rating-series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Al Massri certainly has the dramatic depth and physical presence to take on a big Hollywood project.

3. Sofia Boutella

An actress, dancer and model, Algerian-French actress Sofia Boutella has got the talent and moves to take on Cleopatra. Born in Algeria, Boutella, 38, first found success as an award-winning street dancer in Paris, as well being a member of a rhythmic gymnastics team.

After working as dancer on high-profile tours for Madonna and Rihanna, she transitioned to Hollywood with high-octane roles in 2015's The Kingsman: The Secret Service and butt-kicking French secret agent in the 2017 action film Atomic Blonde. With a smouldering presence on screen and take-no-prisoners approach to action set pieces, Boutella could be on course to become the next Hollywood action hero.

4. Hend Sabry

A star in both the Arab and Francophone worlds, Hend Sabry definitely has the grace to embody Cleopatra.

The Tunisian's career is full of pioneering strides for the region. Known for powerful roles in socially conscious films such as 2000 Tunisian production The Season of Men and 2011 Egyptian drama Mozakerat Morahka (The Diary of a Teenager), Sabry was the first Arab woman to sit on the judging panel at the Venice Film Festival in 2011.

This year, Sabry, 40, notched up another milestone by teaming up with Netflix to produce and star in what is described as "female-focused" original series.

One can see her building a career similar to Italian actress Monica Bellucci, where she can take on adventurous roles in Hollywood while maintaining her formidable standing in the Arab world.

5. Emeraude Toubia

Also of Mexican and Lebanese decent, Emeraude Toubia, 31, followed Hayek's footsteps by transitioning from roles in Latin soap operas to Hollywood. Her star is riding high courtesy of her current lead role in the supernatural television series Shadow Hunters and one can sense she is ready to make the leap to the big screen.