The new docu-series, African Queens: Queen Cleopatra, stars black British actress Adele James as the Egyptian ruler. Producer Jada Pinkett Smith said she wanted to tell the story because ‘we don’t often get to see or hear stories about black queens.’
But the trailer released last week has drawn a furious backlash for featuring claims from historians who assert that Cleopatra was black and had ‘curly hair.’ One of the historians featured says: ‘I remember my grandmother saying to me: I don’t care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was black.’
Egyptians have reacted with horror to the denial of records which show Cleopatra was Macedonian-Greek. An Egyptian lawyer has filed a case with the country’s public prosecutor demanding that Netflix be shutdown.
Meanwhile Cairo’s former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass condemned the documentary’s claims as ‘completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not black.’
Controversy: In the show, which is due to air on May 10, Cleopatra is depicted as black, despite historical records showing she was of Macedonian Greek heritage.
‘Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilisation is black,’ he added and called on his countrymen to take a stand against the streaming giant.
On Sunday, lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary filed a complaint with the public prosecutor demanding that he take ‘the necessary legal measures’ to block access to Netflix.
He alleged the show featured content that violated Egypt’s media laws and accused Netflix of trying to ‘promote the Afrocentric thinking… which includes slogans and writings aimed at distorting and erasing the Egyptian identity.’
The four-part series will explore the legacy, intellect and life of Cleopatra VII, the Greek Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC.
The trailer notes that Cleopatra belonged to the Ptolemaic dynasty but then goes on to dispute her heritage.
‘It’s possible she was an Egyptian’ says one expert, while another adds: ‘I remember my grandmother saying to me ‘I don’t care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was black.”
The two-minute official Trailer uploaded on April 12 has already amassed over 1.9 million views on YouTube.
Meanwhile, Netflix has been forced to turn comments off on the official trailer, after it was met with controversy.
A Change.org petition to cancel the show has amassed over 3,000 signatures. A previous petition – which was taken down – had over 62,000 signatures.
Author Kemi Owonibi tweeted: ‘For the nth time, the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra was not an Egyptian.
‘She was Greek! Cleopatra VII was white—of Macedonian descent, likewise all the Ptolemy rulers, who lived in Egypt.’
Another added: ‘Netflix is – yet again – black washing a historically White character, this time it’s Queen Cleopatra that is transformed into a black woman despite that we know she was White — of Macedonian/Greek descent, so was all of the rulers of the Ptolemy dynasty.’
A third said: ‘Cleopatra was NOT Black, she was the GREEK Queen of Egypt and is a beautiful connection between Greek and Egyptian civilisations.’
Backlash: Twitter users responded furiously after watching the trailer, with one calling it ‘theft of Egyptian history’
Somaya Elkhashab tweeted: ‘Identifying Queen Cleopatra as black for fulfilling modern African American fantasies is pure theft of egyptian history and yet an attempt to rewrite history’s greats.
‘Blackwashing a greek queen proves the obsession with white women and this wouldn’t help stopping racism at all.’
However another said: ‘Well, it seems Jada Pinkett Smith has folks all uptight because of her upcoming documentary on Netflix. It’s called #QueenCleopatra and it airs on May 10.
‘The issue is, Cleopatra is shown as Black woman and some don’t like it. Personally, I can’t wait to see it!’
Cleopatra was the companion of Alexander The Great, renowned for her marriages and affairs with Marc Antony and Julius Caesar.
Her first language was Greek although she was the only Ptolemaic ruler to use the Egyptian language.
Actress Adele James previously responded by telling people not to watch the show if they don’t like the casting.
She tweeted: ‘Just FYI, this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated on my account. You will be blocked without hesitation!!! If you don’t like the casting don’t watch the show.
Starring role: Adele James, 37, plays Cleopatra and previously warned people ‘not to watch’ the show if they don’t like the casting
‘Or do & engage in (expert) opinion different to yours. Either way, I’M GASSED and will continue to be!’
The official synopsis reads: ‘From Executive Producer Jada Pinkett Smith comes a new documentary series exploring the lives of prominent and iconic African Queens.
‘This season will feature Cleopatra, the world’s most famous, powerful, and misunderstood woman — a daring queen whose beauty and romances came to overshadow her real asset: her intellect.
‘Cleopatra’s heritage has been the subject of much academic debate, which has often been ignored by Hollywood. Now our series re-assesses this fascinating part of her story.’
Queen Cleopatra will be available to stream on Netflix from May 10.