The 'Queen Cleopatra' by Netflix - the controversy

Given the historical context and prevailing knowledge about Cleopatra's lineage, the casting decision in this case has sparked debate regarding the accuracy and authenticity of representing historical figures.



Recently, there have been two notable castings that faced significant public backlash. The controversy began with the casting of Halle Bailey, an African-American actress, for the role of Ariel in the live-action adaptation of "The Little Mermaid." Despite the original film being a fictional cartoon beloved by many, the decision to cast a person of color as a character traditionally depicted as white sparked backlash. Some individuals even expressed their refusal to watch the movie, arguing that it was not a faithful representation of the original character.

The backlash surrounding the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel can be attributed, in part, to a long-standing familiarity with white actors predominantly filling major lead roles. The notion of casting a person of color as a character historically perceived as Caucasian was deemed unacceptable by some.

While this topic of discussion mainly took place on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Youtube, with the release of ‘Queen Cleopatra’ the whole argument about representation and misrepresentation was taken to a whole new level.

‘Queen Cleopatra’ is the first of a two part series by Netflix which portrays the iconic historical figure in a docu-drama, a genre that has become increasingly popular in recent times. Though such genres usually pick up good viewership in the mainstream media, with some backlash due to historical misrepresentation when it comes to the garments, with Queen Cleopatra the backlash was much more severe.

Similar to the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel, Netflix cast Adele James, a biracial actor to portray Cleopatra in its brand new series. The backlash for this series did not even come gradually, as the rating for the series was shockingly low, receiving only 2 percent audience and 10 percent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. But why such severe backlash you may wonder?

Following the release, the backlash received by this series was not just merely social justice warriors on social media, this time, a large role of critisizing was played by Egyptian Officials.

Though this is not the first time a movie or a series has been created portraying Cleopatra, and this is definitely not the first time the casting was not an Egyptian woman, this is the first time such heavy backlash was received, leading to many questioning why the backlash only comes after a black actor was cast for the role. In the past, English actor Elizabeth Taylor has famously played the role of the Queen, which was well-received though there was no Egyptian representation in that casting as well.

Major backlash was received from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, with the Secretary General of the Ministry claiming that this casting is ‘a falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical fallacy’. Though this comment might appear to be bad, especially being made by Government Officials after staying silent on previous castings for the same role, Forbes also highlighted a comment by an Egyptian lawyer Mahmoud Al-Semary who claimed that this casting is a misrepresentation of the ‘Egyptian Identity’  by Netflix to ‘promote Afrocentric thinking’.

With this case, however, there might be more than just back and forth arguments as this case is not as black and white and nonsensical as the Arial casting. One of the reasons many people got so pressed is that the Professor P.Haley, the first interviewee shared an anecdote from her youth when her mother told her that Cleopatra was actually black.

The controversy surrounding the casting of Cleopatra arises from the fact that historical accounts consistently depict her as Greek. However, the Netflix series openly presented her as a black woman right from the initial interviews, deviating from the established understanding of Cleopatra's heritage.

Given the historical context and prevailing knowledge about Cleopatra's lineage, the casting decision in this case has sparked debate regarding the accuracy and authenticity of representing historical figures. The argument against casting a black actress in this role is rooted in the historical record, which portrays Cleopatra as being of Greek descent.

It is essential to approach discussions around such casting choices with sensitivity, considering historical accuracy, cultural representation, and the potential impact on perceptions and understanding of historical figures. The casting of Cleopatra as a black woman in this specific context has fueled a debate that acknowledges the historical background and the portrayal of characters within their historical context.

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