Angered by Black Cleopatra, Egypt plans counter-programming

Netflix finally released it on Wednesday polarizing “African Queens” docuseries “Queen Cleopatra” depicting the Egyptian ruler as a black woman. But Egypt has already launched counter-programming plans to tell its own version of the Pharaonic ruler’s story, using “the highest levels of research and scrutiny.”

Al Wathaeqya, the state-supported Egyptian documentary channel, recently announced plans to produce a documentary with state broadcaster United Media Services – an apparent reaction to what some Egyptian critics in Netflix’s “Queen Cleopatra” and others called “historical revisionism”.

“As is usual in the whole field of documentary production and when working on documentary channels, working sessions are currently taking place with a number of specialists in the fields of history, archeology and anthropology; “To conduct research related to the subject of the film and its image to the highest level of research and scrutiny,” the broadcaster said, according to a translation of its Facebook post.

Independent filmmaker and Egyptologist Curtis Ryan Woodside also posted a 90-minute English language documentary about Cleopatra VII his YouTube channel Wednesday he dismissed “biased” opinions and “misinformed” modern and American interpretations of the Queen. The film explores Egypt’s multiracial society and features commentary from Kathleen Martinez, a Dominican archaeologist “In Search of Cleopatra,” and Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former Minister of State for Antiquities, who has vehemently opposed Netflix’s portrayal of the ancient ruler.

Hawass also railed against Netflix’s documentary series — the “African Queens” series — on Wednesday Produced by Jada Pinkett Smith – during an Arabic-language interview about Egypt MBC network. He said that while speaking in the US, he was confronted with black protesters who called him a liar. But he believes they have “disorganized thinking” when it comes to ancient Egypt, which is his area of ​​expertise.

He also repeated in the interview that the only known Egyptian rulers were blacks, the Cushite kings of the 25th dynasty (747-656 BC), and he objected to black Americans claiming that Egyptian civilization was of black origin and ” obsessed”. with the colonization of Egypt throughout its history. He also hoped Netflix would stream the Cleopatra documentaries he helped make as well. (Al Wathaeqya broadcaster also recently acquired Hawass’ Roots of Ancient Egypt, scheduled to air in May.)

Cleopatra was born in 69 BC. Born in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria and reigned 51 BC. as her father’s successor until her death in 30 BC. amidst the expansion of the Roman Empire. Egyptologists have confirmed that she was Macedonian-Greek on her father’s side, Ptolemy XII, but her maternal ancestry is less clear; Little is known about the ethnicity of her birth mother. Historians have said it is possible that she or another female ancestor was indigenous Egyptian or from another part of Africa.

“Queen Cleopatra” combines dramatic re-enactments of the ruler’s stories with expert interviews. It sparked a backlash in the North African country for casting multiracial British actress Adele James as the Pharaonic ruler – the last queen of the Greek-speaking dynasty founded by Alexander the Great, Macedonian general Ptolemy.

The casting decision and James’ appearance in last month’s trailer further reignited the long-debated discourse surrounding Cleopatra’s maternal ancestry, with many people objecting to the documentary series presenting her potential black ancestry as fact rather than theory.

Last month, Egyptian lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary filed a complaint with the Egyptian Public Prosecutor’s Office, demanding that Netflix be shut down in the North African country for promoting “Afrocentric thinking,” including “slogans and writing aimed at distorting Egyptian identity and… to wipe out”, is blocked.” His efforts were unsuccessful; Netflix was still available in Egypt on Wednesday and Queen Cleopatra was available to stream.

On April 30, the same day that Al Wathaeqya announced its plans for the documentary, the secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities declared that the Netflix docuseries’ depiction of Cleopatra with African features and dark skin was “considered fake.” of Egyptian history.” .”

“Statues of Queen Cleopatra confirm that she had Hellenistic (Greek) features, distinguished by light skin, a long nose and thin lips‘ said the council, Tweet photos of busts and coins Depiction of the Queen.

And comedian Bassem Youssef, the once-exiled political commentator known as “Egypt’s Jon Stewart” who appeared in “Mon” from Netflix criticized Hollywood’s misrepresentation of Egyptians during an appearance in “Piers Morgan Uncensored” He accused filmmakers of appropriating and trying to “take over our Egyptian culture”.

Queen Cleopatra director Tina Gharavi defended the show’s casting decision in an essay last month for diversityand argued that the queen resembled James more than Elizabeth Taylor, the actress who played the empress in Hollywood’s Oscar-winning 1963 epic Cleopatra.

“Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melancholic sister? And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white? Her proximity to whiteness seems to give her value, and for some Egyptians that seems to be really important,” the Persian director wrote, adding, “Perhaps not only did I direct a series where Cleopatra is portrayed as black, but that I asked the Egyptians to see themselves as Africans and they are angry with me for that. I agree.”

James, who has been trolled on social media for her casting and told people not to watch the series if they don’t like it, dismissed the backlash on Wednesday while promoting the arrival of “Queen Cleopatra” on Netflix advertised. (The series landed on the platform just days later the drama “Queen Charlotte”, the “Bridgerton” prequel, which portrays the Queen of England as black.)

“I’m so, so, so excited for you to delve deeper into the life of this incredible woman – all 4 episodes are available to stream now.” , she said tweeted.

A woman in a Cleopatra costume adjusts her headdress.

Adele James stars in the Netflix series Queen Cleopatra.


She also performed The Wayne Ayers PodcastHe called the Egyptian lawsuit “pretty funny” in response to the series.

“To me, the level of threat that you have to feel just by my skin tone to file a lawsuit against an entire streaming service is really extreme… and it’s 100% rooted in racism.” It’s a very modern ideology “, she said. “The ancient Egyptians didn’t think about race the way we do. Because race has only been contextualized in the way we understand it since the transatlantic slave trade. People just didn’t think like that back then. It’s really bizarre, but I just find it very sad.”

Netflix declined to comment on the backlash on Wednesday.

Incidentally, the documentary series does not delve deeply into Cleopatra’s race, but rather focuses on her reign as the first Ptolemaic ruler to learn the Egyptian language and also practice the religion – and the last Pharaonic ruler of the country before it fell to the Roman Empire 30 B.C. Chr

The discussion of her race begins early in the first episode when Shelley P. Haley, Professor of Classics at Hamilton College, asserts: like she did in the trailer – that her grandmother had told her that Cleopatra was black. Even then, Haley soon says that “we don’t know her exact racial ancestry for sure.” Prior to the series’ debut, Cleopatra researcher Sally-Ann Ashton, who worked with producers and appears in the series, said the project was intended to “explore Cleopatra’s story as a queen, strategist (and) ruler with impressive intelligence.” not their race.

“Her ethnicity is not the focus of ‘Queen Cleopatra,’ but we made a conscious choice to portray her as a mixed race to reflect theories about Cleopatra’s possible Egyptian ancestry and the multicultural nature of ancient Egypt,” the producers stated the companion page of Netflix Tudum In April.

“If you look at her portrayals, she looks different depending on who is portraying her. This is how their representations, their perceptions change. So it’s almost like this chameleon,” added Debora Heard, a PhD student in Nubian Archeology and Egyptology, in the first episode.

Another scholar of the documentary series, Islam Issa, also tells viewers that the appeal of Cleopatra is “that everyone can imagine her in their own way.”

Archaeologists such as Monica Hannahan Egyptologist who argued in a viral Facebook post that “Egyptians had all colors” and that ancient Egypt “was a culture rather than a race,” reiterated that Cleopatra “didn’t leave us anything to say clearly how.” she herself was ‘identified’, so it is not possible to say with certainty whether she saw herself as Egyptian or more Ptolemaic.

“For us, clinging to one identity and rejecting other identities and the cultural pluralism that characterizes Egypt is a real impoverishment,” she wrote.

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