Egyptian experts are calling out Netflix’s decision to cast a bi-racial actor as Queen Cleopatra VII in its upcoming docu-series, “African Queens: Queen Cleopatra,” alleging that Netflix is “blackwashing” the historical figure. The controversy has prompted calls for Netflix to be banned from the country, and a petition has been launched to cancel the show, which has gathered thousands of signatures.
Netflix’s “African Queens: Queen Cleopatra”
The show, narrated and executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, stars Adele James, a bi-racial actor, in the role of Cleopatra. Pinkett Smith has explained that she wanted to be involved in the project because she “really wanted to represent Black women.”
While Cleopatra’s specific race has been the subject of historical debate, Egyptian experts have criticized Netflix’s portrayal of the legendary queen, arguing that she was Greek and not black. Zahi Hawass, an Egyptologist, accused Netflix of spreading “false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilization is black.”
Calls to Ban Netflix from Egypt
Lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary has filed a complaint with the country’s public prosecutor, calling for Netflix to be blocked in Egypt. He alleges that Netflix promotes “Afrocentric thinking… aimed at distorting and erasing the Egyptian identity.”
A petition to cancel the show, titled “Cancel Netflix’s ‘Queen Cleopatra,” has gathered more than 3,200 signatures on Change.org. Another petition that allegedly garnered 85,000 signatures was removed from the website.
Netflix defends its casting decision
Netflix has defended its casting decision, reminding viewers that in Cleopatra’s time, “Egypt’s population was multicultural and multiracial.” The streaming platform consulted its own Egyptologist, Sally-Ann Ashton, who argued that it was “strange” to depict Cleopatra as wholly European.
The controversy has prompted further debate over the identity of Cleopatra, with some speculating that her mother and other female ancestors may have been indigenous to Africa.
The official trailer for the show has stirred up controversy, with comments on the YouTube video disabled. Despite the backlash, “African Queens: Queen Cleopatra” is set to premiere on Netflix on May 10.