Egyptian broadcaster to counter Netflix’s Black Cleopatra with light-skinned actress

Netflix cast British actress Adele James as Cleopatra in the upcoming original docudrama, "African Queens," premiering May 10.

Responding to Netflix casting a Black woman as Cleopatra, a government-owned Egyptian media outlet is making a documentary that will depict the queen with an actress whose features and coloring are more European.

Netflix’s docudrama series, “African Queens,” will star Adele James, an actress of British and Jamaican heritage, depicting the first-century queen as a woman with African roots, according to Variety. News of James’ casting caused a backlash among Egyptian government officials and historians, who claimed Cleopatra’s real heritage was European.

As a result, the Al Wathaeqya channel, a subsidiary of United Media Services, is going into production with a documentary with a fair-skinned actress as Cleopatra as part of an effort to counter what many detractors of “African Queens” call a falsification of history.

One critic is Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, a department of government that focuses on heritage. The council stated, via a Twitter post, that “Statues of Queen Cleopatra confirm that she had Hellenistic (Greek) features, distinguished by light skin, a drawn-out nose, and thin lips.”

Cleopatra was born in 69 B.C. in the Egyptian city of Alexandria while being part of a Greek-speaking dynasty. 

Tina Gharavi, director of “African Queens,” responded to the backlash in an op-ed piece in Variety. Gharavi defended the decision to cast a Black woman as Cleopatra, asking, “Why do some people need Cleopatra to be white?”

“Perhaps it’s not just that I’ve directed a series that portrays Cleopatra as Black, but that I have asked Egyptians to see themselves as Africans, and they are furious at me for that,” Gharavi said.

“African Queens” premieres Wednesday (May 10) on Netflix.

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