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Pinkett's 'Queen Cleopatra' docuseries portrayed by Black actress is having some backlash

From Executive Producer Jada Pinkett Smith comes a documentary series exploring the lives of prominent and iconic African Queens. The season initially features Queen Cleopatra, the world’s most famous, powerful, and misunderstood woman -- a daring queen whose reputed beauty and romances came to overshadow her real asset: her intellect.

Cleopatra has become an icon, endlessly embellished and rewritten through history. The Netflix series re-assesses her fascinating story, her political brilliance, as well as questions surrounding her heritage, which remains the subject of debate.

On May 10, Netflix dropped its four-part docuseries, Queen Cleopatra. Executive produced by actress Jada Pinkett-Smith as part of her African Queens series, Queen Cleopatra focuses on Cleopatra VII, the last pharaoh of Egypt, through testimonies and dramatic reenactments.

According to online news article, Is Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation?, the docuseries has been met with backlash over Cleopatra being depicted as Black by British actress Adele James: The fact that Queen Cleopatra is classified as a documentary over drama has further angered audiences because it lends misplaced legitimacy to the series and its depiction of Egyptian history, the article continued.

However, Queen Cleopatra director, Tina Gharavi, said in Variety news article, "Queen Cleopatra’ Director Speaks Out: ‘What Bothers You So Much About a Black Cleopatra?", said:

"Doing the research, I realized what a political act it would be to see Cleopatra portrayed by a Black actress. For me, the idea that people had gotten it so incredibly wrong before — historically, from Theda Bara to Monica Bellucci, and recently, with Angelina Jolie and Gal Gadot in the running to play her — meant we had to get it even more right. The hunt was on to find the right performer to bring Cleopatra into the 21st century ... The known facts are that her Macedonian Greek family — the Ptolemaic lineage — intermarried with West Asian’s Seleucid dynasty and had been in Egypt for 300 years. Cleopatra was eight generations away from these Ptolemaic ancestors, making the chance of her being white somewhat unlikely. After 300 years, surely, we can safely say Cleopatra was Egyptian."

In the 1963 movie, Cleopatra, famous actress, Elizabeth Taylor, played the role as the Egyptian queen, Gharavi remembers watching it as a child: "I remember as a kid seeing Elizabeth Taylor play Cleopatra. I was captivated, but even then, I felt the image was not right. Was her skin really that white? With this new production, could I find the answers about Cleopatra’s heritage and release her from the stranglehold that Hollywood had placed on her image?"

Gharavi is an Iranian-born British BAFTA and Sundance nominated artist, director and screenwriter. Gharavi is a BAFTA and Sundance-nominated filmmaker. Her debut, “I Am Nasrine” was nominated for a BAFTA in 2013.


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