Cleopatra a black? Greeks and Egyptians criticize Netflix documentary

“Manifest historical error”
Cleopatra a black? Greeks and Egyptians sharply criticize Netflix documentary

Queen Cleopatra - as Netflix sees it.

Queen Cleopatra – as Netflix sees it.

© Netflix / PR

Netflix deliberately remodeled Greek Cleopatra into a black woman. Greeks and Egyptians don’t find the history cluttering funny.

Blackfacing is frowned upon, but “blacking” historical figures afterwards is not. Now it has caught Cleopatra, after all, the most famous queen of antiquity. Black actress Adele James was a conscious choice for producer Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of actor Will Smith. Because it’s important to tell “stories about black queens,” she said — apparently even when the queen wasn’t black at all and it’s a documentary, not a feature film.

Greeks not amused

As was to be expected, there were immediate dissenting votes. First from Greece, for the Hellenes claim Cleopatra as one of their own. She is the last great queen of the Ptolemies, a Macedonian-Greek dynasty that ruled Egypt for almost three hundred years after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s empire. Cleopatra came from the old Macedonian nobility in a straight line. Your ancestor Ptolemy fought alongside Alexander the Great. Today’s Greeks are very picky when it comes to Alexander. Because of a name dispute, Greece blocked Macedonia’s accession to the EU for years, only when the country renamed itself North Macedonia did Athens give up the blockade. Now when the Macedonian Cleopatra was changed into a Sudanese woman, they were not amused.

The Egyptians are also upset. The glorious days of ancient Egypt are supposed to have an identity-forming effect on the divided country today. The past is conjured up with a lot of pomp and show effects, so it doesn’t fit into the picture when one of the most famous characters is “stolen” from them. The Egyptian government has now called Netflix’s Cleopatra documentary a “blatant historical error” and a “falsification of Egyptian history”. The country’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has correctly pointed out that Cleopatra descended from a dynasty of Greek rulers of Egypt and would therefore have possessed “fair-skinned and Hellenic features”. Cleopatra was described by her contemporaries as fair-skinned, statues and busts of her show Caucasian features.

identity theft

dr Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Archeology Council, wrote in a statement that “the appearance of the heroine in this work is a falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical error”. The documentation attacks the cultural heritage. Waziri said that Netflix has a duty to “refer to historical and scientific facts to ensure people’s histories and civilizations are not falsified.” The whole situation didn’t improve when a cast member said in the show’s trailer, “I don’t care what they tell you at school, Cleopatra was black.”

The mockery was not long in coming.

The mockery was not long in coming.


In Egypt, the occupation is a particular affront because it’s not just about Cleopatra as an individual. There is a notion of “Black Egypt” among blacks in the United States. In a nutshell, this conspiracy theory states that the country on the Nile experienced its heyday under black rule. This is the only way to explain the achievements, buildings and other achievements. The ancestors of today’s Egyptians, on the other hand, are barbarians who conquered the country. After driving out the blacks, they wiped out their tracks and thus hijacked Egyptian civilization. It is not surprising that the Egyptians react sensitively here.

From May 10th, the four-part documentary will be streamed on Netflix.

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