Queen Cleopatra, the upcoming four-part “docudrama” set to premiere on Netflix next month, has been mired in controversy due to the casting of Adele James, who is of mixed heritage, in the titular role. Director Tina Gharavi has revealed that she has faced online hate and backlash from an Egyptian lawyer who has filed a legal complaint, alleging that the series violates media laws and aims to erase the Egyptian identity.
The casting of a Black actress as Cleopatra, an iconic Egyptian ruler, has sparked heated debates and raised questions about historical accuracy and representation. While historians have debated Cleopatra’s precise ancestry and race, with some describing her as Macedonian Greek on her father’s side, others argue that race as a modern concept did not exist during her time. Rebecca Futo Kennedy, an associate professor of classics at Denison University, stated that asking whether Cleopatra was “Black” or “white” is anachronistic and reflects modern political investments rather than attempting to understand antiquity on its own terms.
Director Gharavi defended her casting decision, stating that portraying Cleopatra as a Black actress would be a political act and an opportunity to correct historical misrepresentations in previous portrayals of the Egyptian queen. She questioned why some people insisted on Cleopatra being portrayed as white and noted that Cleopatra’s proximity to whiteness seemed to give her value in the eyes of some, particularly in Egypt.
Adele James, the star of Queen Cleopatra, has also faced backlash on social media, but she remains undeterred, urging critics to watch the show or engage in expert opinions different from theirs. She emphasized her excitement about the role and expressed her commitment to the portrayal of Cleopatra in the 21st century.
The show has also been praised by many viewers who appreciate its accuracy in depicting Cleopatra’s complex and powerful character. Through Adele James’ performance, viewers are able to experience the humanity of a young woman creating her own destiny in a male-dominated world. In addition, the show aims to show that there is more to Cleopatra than her famous love affair with Julius Caesar. The vision of strong female leadership portrayed on screen gives a refreshing change from traditional gender roles and is sure to inspire future generations of women.
Queen Cleopatra is not the first production to face controversy over the portrayal of the iconic Egyptian ruler. Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal of Cleopatra in the 1963 movie of the same name was met with mixed reviews but eventually became a box office success. Taylor faced criticism for converting to Judaism before marrying Eddie Fisher, which led to Egypt banning her film due to their conflict with Israel. Other actresses, including Theda Bara and Vivian Leigh, have also portrayed Cleopatra in previous films.
In recent years, Gal Gadot and Angelina Jolie have also faced criticism for their potential casting as Cleopatra in unreleased films. The director of Queen Cleopatra defended her decision to cast Adele James, stating that she found in James an actor who could convey Cleopatra’s beauty and strength, and argued that it is more likely that Cleopatra looked like James than Elizabeth Taylor. The controversy surrounding the casting of Cleopatra in Hollywood continues to spark discussions about representation, historical accuracy, and the complexities of race in the entertainment industry.