A new documentary about Queen Cleopatra VII, the last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, is being produced by an Egyptian channel in response to a controversial Netflix docu-series that depicts her as a black African. The documentary, titled Cleopatra, will be based on historical evidence and expert opinions, and will aim to present a more accurate and authentic portrayal of the legendary queen’s life and legacy.
The announcement of the Egyptian documentary comes amid a wave of public outrage and criticism over the trailer of the second season of Netflix’s African Queens, which focuses on Cleopatra. The trailer states that Cleopatra was black African, and casts a black actress, Adele James, in the role of the queen. The first season of the series, 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.
Many Egyptians have expressed their anger and dissatisfaction over Netflix’s portrayal of Cleopatra, accusing the streaming platform of distorting and appropriating Egyptian history and culture. Some prominent personalities, such as comedian and political dissident Bassem Youssef, have also spoken out against Netflix’s revisionism. Youssef appeared in a televised interview with British journalist Piers Morgan last week to decry what he called the “Afrocentrism” of Netflix and its producer, Jada Pinkett Smith, who narrates the episodes. Smith has not made a public statement on the matter yet.
The controversy over Cleopatra’s race has been a long-standing debate among scholars and historians, as her origins are not fully clear. However, most agree that she was of Greek descent, as she belonged to the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great. Her father was Ptolemy XII, a direct descendant of Ptolemy I, one of Alexander’s generals who became the founder of the dynasty. Her mother’s identity is unknown, but some speculate that she was also a member of the Ptolemaic family or a noblewoman from Syria.
The Egyptian channel that is producing the documentary, Al-Watha’eqeya (The Documentary), is a subsidiary of the state-affiliated United Media Services. It said in a statement that it has formed a committee of experts on history, archaeology and anthropology to ensure that the film is “as historically accurate as possible”. It also said that it has begun holding work sessions with specialists to research and study the subject of the film.
The channel’s announcement was welcomed by the public and experts who demanded that the documentary be released quickly and translated into multiple languages so that the world can get a better picture of Egyptian history, free of misinformation. Among them was Egypt’s former Minister of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, who asserted that Cleopatra was of Greek origin and called Netflix’s series “completely fake”. Hawass also warned of a growing tendency by black Americans to depict Egyptian pharaohs as black, citing several pharaonic paintings that show ancient Egyptians standing side-by-side with black Africans with distinguishable physical features.
The release date for both Netflix’s series and Egypt’s documentary has not been announced yet.