Controversy Surrounds Netflix’s ‘African Queen Cleopatra’:  Director Tina Gharavi is a British-American BAFTA and Sundance-nominated activist, artist, director, and screenwriter. She is known for her innovative cross-platform stories about rebels, misfits, outsiders, and people in extraordinary situations. According to The Spectator, Gharavi’s work is simultaneously intimate, lyrical, poignant, and political.

Gharavi initially trained as a painter at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.  She later attended Le Fresnoy Studio National Des arts contemporains, near Lille, France. After praise and acclaim from Ben Kingsley and bagging a BAFTA Award, Gharavi continues to follow the path of a trailblazer setting in stone statements that will remain a stronghold in the record of Film history.

What’s the controversy about Netflix’s new show Queen Cleopatra?

Netflix’s show Queen Cleopatra has become a synonym for controversy. There were claims that the new streaming service was “blackwashing” the background of Queen Cleopatra VII after the trailer for the Netflix docudrama African Queen Cleopatra was revealed. According to Egyptian scholars, Cleopatra was of European ancestry rather than African descent when she was born in the Egyptian capital of Alexandria in 69 BCE. While Cleopatra’s mother’s ethnicity remains unknown, historians have established that she was Macedonian-Greek on her father, Ptolemy XII’s side.

Debates over Cleopatra’s “race” were reactivated after Netflix released a trailer for its four-part docudrama Queen Cleopatra last week, starring Adele James, a Black actor. The series is also being narrated by Jada Pinkett Smith, who said she wants the show to “represent Black women.”

Heated discussions surrounding Cleopatra’s racial identity are ahistorical because they reflect contemporary views about race rather than how people were understood in ancient times. Some experts say they highlight the modern conceptualization of race that became prevalent during the 17th and 18th centuries.

In an interview with TIME, an associate professor of Classics at Denison University mentions the following:

“To ask whether someone was ‘Black’ or ‘white’ is anachronistic and says more about modern political investments than attempting to understand antiquity on its own terms. If we want to be more historically accurate, we need to understand how ancient peoples considered their ethnicities instead of universalizing and de-historicizing our own views.”

Prof. Rebecca Futo Kennedy

Who Will Play the Lead in African Queen Cleopatra?

Gharavi decided to cast biracial Black actress Adele James as Cleopatra. After doing so, both the actress and director faced a furious backlash. They held their ground, and statements were made. On April 13, Lead Actress Adele James took to Twitter to respond to backlash at her casting by saying:

 “Cleopatra was a queen, not a slave. If you don’t like the casting don’t watch the show. Or do & engage in (expert) opinion different to yours. Either way, I’M GASSED and will continue to be!”

Actress Adele James

 Director Responds to Racial Casting Backlash

Tina Gharvari explains in her piece that Cleopatra’s ethnic make-up is a topic of debate among historians, and, as such, what she looked like can only be theorized. Her father was Macedonian, but her mother’s identity is unknown, and as such, she could have come from a number of cultures in and around Egypt. Gharvari accepts that Cleopatra may not have been Black but wanted to make a show that could explore that possibility. She goes on to say:

“Some threatened to ruin my career — which I wanted to tell them was laughable. I was ruining it very well for myself, thank you very much!” she said. “No amount of reasoning or reminders that Arab invasions had not yet happened in Cleopatra’s age seemed to stem the tide of ridiculous comments. Amir in his bedroom in Cairo wrote to me to earnestly appeal that ‘Cleopatra was Greek!’ Oh, Lawd! Why would that be a good thing to you, Amir? You’re Egyptian.”

“After much hang-wringing and countless auditions, we found in Adele James an actor who could convey not only Cleopatra’s beauty, but also her strength. What the historians can confirm is that it is more likely that Cleopatra looked like Adele than Elizabeth Taylor ever did.”

“So, was Cleopatra Black? We don’t know for sure, but we can be certain she wasn’t white like Elizabeth Taylor. We need to have a conversation with ourselves about our colourism, and the internalized white supremacy that Hollywood has indoctrinated us with. So, was Cleopatra Black? We don’t know for sure, but we can be certain she wasn’t white like Elizabeth Taylor. We need to have a conversation with ourselves about our colorism, and the internalized white supremacy that Hollywood has indoctrinated us with.”

Director Tina Ghavari

The most well-known performance is undoubtedly Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal of Cleopatra in the 1963 movie. More recent initiatives to bring the character back to the big screen have been made. Angelina Jolie was considering a Cleopatra project more than ten years ago. Gal Gadot and Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins were previously set to reunite for a Cleopatra film. However, production on that film has ceased since Jenkins departed the project.

New Controversy – Who is suing Netflix over Queens Cleopatra, and Why?

Docudrama series African Queens: Cleopatra has come under fire for its choice in casting the lead role, which has even resulted in a lawsuit against the streaming service. Now the director is speaking out. Director Tina Gharvari is behind the upcoming Netflix series Queen Cleopatra. The series will combine dramatized events with historians discussing Cleopatra, including discussions of the ruler’s possible ethnic makeup. However, the decision to cast Adele James, a Black actress, has already resulted in backlash, as a lawyer in Egypt has actually filed suit against the production.

In the lawsuit, filed in Egypt by attorney Mahmoud al-Semary, Newsweek reports that the streaming service is accused of “erasing the Egyptian identity” and has asked a court to take legal action against Netflix, including blocking the streaming service in Egypt. Approximately 100,000 people have a Netflix subscription in Egypt.

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