Although I’d heard about the controversy surrounding the Netflix docudrama Queen Cleopatra, I hadn’t followed it much since it actually released a few days ago. It’s number 6 on Netflix’s top 10 list, and I don’t think it’s climbed much higher.
However, the show did something I didn’t think was possible. Not only does it have the lowest viewership in Netflix history, it also basically has the lowest possible viewership Rotten Tomatoes, a 1%. Not 10%, but 1%. (Update: It just rose to 2%. Still an all-time low)
There aren’t many reviews from critics, but even those are low, with the show sitting at 13%. But those viewer ratings? I’ve never seen anything like it. Not with bad shows. Not on politically controversial shows that are prone to review bombing. It’s never been this bad, not in Netflix history. Honestly, I don’t even think so TV History, at least with as many reviews in (over a thousand).
I’ve written about series with low Netflix ratings before. The last time I raised this issue is when Netflix has since been cancelled Resident Evil adaptation scored 22% among fans, one of the lowest I’ve seen on the service. That was low compared to other high-profile Netflix failures, Jupiter’s Legacy at 73%, Space Force at 77%, Haters Back Off at 76%, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness at 39%. Fans usually rate things higher than critics, even bad shows, and the point is that a 1% rating seems mathematically borderline and impossible, even given the controversy the film stirred up.
It’s about the conceptualization of a supposedly historical documentary stating that Cleopatra was a black “African queen” as this season was meant to be the first in a series covering various queens across the continent. But there is no particularly credible evidence that Cleopatra was black, but that she was of Macedonian-Greek descent. The country of Egypt, in particular, took offense at the series changing their story in such a dramatic way and portraying it as something they believe is not factual in a series meant to be a documentary.
Series creator Tina Gharvi defended the casting choice:
“Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melancholic sister? And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white? Her proximity to white seems to give her value, and for some Egyptians that seems to really matter. After much struggle and countless auditions, we found in Adele James an actress who could convey not only Cleopatra’s beauty but also her strength. What historians can confirm is that Cleopatra is more likely to have looked like Adele than Elizabeth Taylor ever was.
Ghavri has celebrated the series’ placement on the Netflix rosters and remains committed to the decision:
But that didn’t resonate with critics or audiences alike. The low ratings are no doubt largely due to cast choice and historical changes, but the series doesn’t seem particularly good at its core either. I’ve really never seen a show review like this before, and I’m excited to see if Netflix will renew the series so it can spotlight other African queens, who will no doubt be less controversial.
Update (05/15): Given that curiosity has prevailed extremely low scores that had to be about more than just the main controversy surrounding the series. At least if it were Good, there would be some points that would make up for that.
It comes as no great shock to report that the show is…not good. Historical accuracy aside, Cleopatra Adele James is actually pretty good in the part I watched (I only got to do part of the first episode before realizing I had about 12 other better shows to watch), but the whole thing feels like one of those bad historical re-enactments I used to watch on the History Channel with my parents as a kid. The information, which often seems inaccurate, is just plain boring, and the whole thing feels like a dry soap opera. I’m not shocked that the critics are dismissive and the fans don’t even really mention the question of casting Cleopatra.
Since I first wrote this article, the critic score has dropped to 11% and the user score has increased to 2%, with over 2,5000 reviews now. Again, this is still the lowest score I’ve seen with most reviews, the lowest by a mile at least for Netflix. It speaks again to Netflix’s neglected quality control, which instead puts the spotlight on projects that were probably never meant to see the light of day. This is far from the worst thing there is always was aired on Netflix despite these results, but no, I’m not sure it should have actually made the release. It still sits at number 6 on the top 10 list and I expect it will slide down quickly from there.
If you want to judge for yourself, the length is only four 45-minute episodes, which admittedly was a major investment I wanted to make, but it’s relatively small compared to other series. Or you could save yourself the time and read Cleopatra’s Wikipedia entry, which is likely to provide more accurate information and is less painful to look at.
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