Netflix Facing Lawsuit Depicting Queen Cleopatra as a Black Woman in New Documentary

Netflix is facing a lawsuit over its portrayal of Queen Cleopatra as a Black woman in a new documentary, with an Egyptian lawyer accusing the streaming giant of attempting to “erase the Egyptian identity.”

The legal complaint was filed by Mahmoud al-Semary with the country’s public prosecutor shortly after Netflix released a trailer for the upcoming series titled “Queen Cleopatra.”

In his complaint, al-Semary stated that “Most of what Netflix platform displays do not conform to Islamic and societal values and principles, especially Egyptian ones,” according to Egypt Independent.

The series stars British actor Adele James as the iconic monarch, and she recently defended the casting choice on Twitter, telling critics that if they “don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show.”

Jada Pinkett Smith, who serves as an executive producer on the show, also addressed the controversy on Netflix’s promotional website Tudum, stating that it was important for her, her daughter, and her community to see stories about Black queens.

However, some historians have raised concerns about the portrayal of Cleopatra as a Black woman.

While it is difficult to ascertain Cleopatra’s race with certainty, given that the queen’s race was unlikely to be documented, some argue that she was likely not Black.

Sally Ann Ashton, an Egyptology expert who was interviewed in the series, stated, “Given that Cleopatra represents herself as an Egyptian, it seems strange to insist on depicting her as wholly European.” Ashton further added, “Cleopatra ruled in Egypt long before the Arab settlement in North Africa. If the maternal side of her family were indigenous women, they would’ve been African, and this should be reflected in contemporary representations of Cleopatra.”

Al-Semary’s lawsuit also accuses Netflix of promoting Afrocentric thinking that distorts and erases the Egyptian identity, according to the BBC.

Netflix has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Queen Cleopatra, the last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty, was born in 69 BC and died in 30 BC. She has been famously portrayed in films by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 historical drama “Cleopatra” and Vivien Leigh in 1945’s “Caesar and Cleopatra.”

The controversy over Netflix’s portrayal of Cleopatra comes three years after Israeli actor Gal Gadot faced backlash for almost being cast as the queen. Some argued that the role should have gone to an Egyptian actor, but Gadot defended her casting, stating that they couldn’t find a Macedonian actress who could fit the role of Cleopatra.

“Queen Cleopatra” is set to debut on Netflix on May 10th. The lawsuit filed by al-Semary has sparked a wider debate about the representation of historical figures in media and the importance of accurately portraying their cultural and ethnic identities. As the controversy continues to unfold, Netflix and the creators of the documentary are likely to face increased scrutiny and calls for accountability in their portrayal of Queen Cleopatra as a Black woman.

Watch the trailer below:

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