Adele James, the star of Netflix’s much-talked-about ‘Queen Cleopatra’ docudrama has reacted after Egyptian authorities accused Netflix of misrepresenting history by casting a Black woman to play the lead role of Cleopatra.
The streaming giant had defended its decision saying featuring Adele James in the lead role is “a nod to the centuries-long conversation about the ruler’s race” but which officials in Cairo have dismissed as “blatant historical fallacy.”
The trailer, released two weeks ago, claims that Cleopatra was black with ‘curly hair’, which has infuriated Egyptians who slapped down the claim.
Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities argued that the documentary nature of the feature “requires those in charge of its production to investigate accuracy and rely on historical and scientific facts.”
Dr. Mustafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Archeology, said the appearance of Cleopatra in the upcoming series was ‘a falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical misconception’
Dr. Waziri said: ‘The film is classified as a documentary and not a drama, the order that the owners of its industry have to investigate the accuracy and refer to historical and scientific facts in order to ensure that the history and civilizations of peoples are not falsified.
He added that archaeologists and anthropologists should have been referred to when making the series.
Alongside their lengthy statement, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities attached images of artifacts and coins with Cleopatra’s depiction on them.
They said they did this to show off her ‘Hellenic (greek) features, in terms of light complexion, drawn nose, and fluffy lips.
Dr. Waziri said the state of rejection that the film witnessed before its screening comes from defending the history of Queen Cleopatra, which is an important and authentic part of ancient Egyptian history.
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Dr. Nasser Mekkawy, Head of the Egyptian Department of Archeology at Cairo University added that Cleopatra’s appearance would have been light-skinned due to her Macedonian origins.
He said that Cleopatra descended from an ancient Macedonian dynasty that ruled Egypt for nearly 300 years.
The Ministry also said that anthropology studies and DNA studies conducted on mummies and bones confirmed that Egyptians do not bear the features of South-Saharan Africans.
Adele James, 27, takes on the role of the beguiling queen who became the most famous monarch from the land of the Pharaohs.
Appearing on Channel 4’s Steph’s Packed Lunch, Adele addressed the high-profile criticism around being a black actress playing Cleopatra, saying: ‘It would be naive of me to say that I didn’t expect anything at all, but I didn’t expect the scale of it.
‘And I think it’s distressing for anybody to receive any level of abuse, let alone the scale and the nature of what I’ve received, which is fundamentally racist, all of it.
‘People are talking about the wrong things. Yes, we don’t know where her mother was from or her paternal grandmother, but also the show is about so much more than the question mark over her race.
‘If you watch it is a very small part of the conversation really, this is about the fullness of who this woman was and she was a human being and she shouldn’t be reduced to her race any more than I should or anybody should.’Adele was appearing in the show with her co-star John Partridge, best known for his time in EastEnders.
He added: ‘The controversy is about Cleopatra being black, I don’t hear anybody saying that Julius Caesar is a homosexual from Manchester.
‘We’re just actors at the end of the day, and sometimes our morality gets called into play, we’re jobbing actors.’
Adele also talked about the support of Hollywood actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who narrates the series and is its executive producer.
She said: ‘She was so involved in the casting process, she watched all of our audition tapes, she was giving feedback on the rushes when we were out in Morocco shooting.
‘And she’s just been such a champion of the project from the very beginning. I mean, it’s her baby.
‘She is an African Queen and I feel like it just couldn’t be more pertinent and important that she’s the figurehead of this. She’s an icon.’
Cairo’s former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass condemned the documentary as ‘completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not black.’
Hawass said the only rulers of Egypt known to have been black were the Kushite kings of the 25th Dynasty (747-656 BC).
‘Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilization 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.’