Imagine, if you will, that Netflix produced a miniseries based on the life of the 19th century Zulu warrior-king Shaka Zulu, and cast white actor Matt Damon in the lead role. Or what if the woke streaming giant made a movie based on Rosa Parks’ refusal in 1955 to give up her seat on the bus – a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement – and hired blonde actress Charlize Theron to play Parks? How about if Netflix aired a bio-pic of black abolitionist, orator, and statesman Frederick Douglass (a great idea, by the way; let’s talk, Netflix) and gave Hugh Jackman the part?
Imagine the apoplexy from the hypersensitive culture scolds, the cultural appropriation police, of the Left. “You can’t cast Matt Damon as Shaka Zulu!” they would scream. “Shaka Zulu was black!” “Charlize Theron as Rosa Parks?! Are you insane, Netflix?!” “Jackman as Douglass?! Talk about white privilege!”
And they would be absolutely correct to condemn these inexplicable casting choices. Why? Because as capable and world-famous as Damon, Theron, and Jackman might be, they are white and would be historically inaccurate and therefore jarringly inappropriate playing famous black figures. Similarly, it would be laughable to cast Hugh Jackman as, say, Joan of Arc – because she was a real-life historical figure who was inarguably not a middle-aged man (despite contemporary efforts to erase her femaleness and depict her as “nonbinary”).
But put a black actress in the role of a white historical figure, such as Henry VIII discard Anne Boleyn, and suddenly the casting is “daring” and “imaginative,” and every progressive media outlet in the known universe will defend it on social justice grounds. And if you speak up to note that the real Anne Boleyn was undeniably white, and therefore casting a black actress would make the project distractingly nonfactual, then you are smeared as upholding white supremacist culture.
The aforementioned hypothetical situations stem from the current controversy over the casting of black actress Adele James in the titular role of a forthcoming Netflix miniseries, an historical drama titled Queen Cleopatra. The four-part series which will begin streaming on May 10 was executive produced by disgraced Hollywood star Will Smith’s wife, open-marriage enthusiast Jada Pinkett Smith.
Scholarly debates and investigations into the heritage of Cleopatra VII are legion, but the consensus is that the Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC was of Macedonian descent, with the prominent aquiline nose common among the Romans and Greeks, and may have had an olive skin tone. No serious scholar argues that she was a black African.
“It’s possible she was an Egyptian,” one “expert” tentatively states in the trailer for the show. Another says, “I remember my grandmother saying to me ‘I don’t care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was black,’” suggesting that the historical record has been falsified intentionally by a white supremacist educational system to erase the truth about Cleopatra’s blackness.
The casting of James, whose hairstyle in the trailer is more reminiscent of blaxploitation icon Cleopatra Jones than of ancient artistic representations of the Queen of Egypt, has sparked such backlash that Netflix decided to turn off comments on social media sites such as YouTube. A Change.org petition demanding that the show be scrapped amassed over 85,000 signatures before the page was removed.
Warner Todd Huston at Breitbart News cites historian and author Kemi Owonibi as asserting, “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.”
Speaking of Egypt, its people are none-too-thrilled about Netflix playing fast and loose with the casting of their iconic queen. Celebrated Egyptian actress Somaya Elkhashab blasted it on Twitter: “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.”
The Daily Mail reports that Egypt’s former Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass dismissed the Netflix take on Cleopatra as “completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not Black.” He added that the only rulers of Egypt known to have been black were the Kushite kings of the 25th Dynasty (747-656 BC), and complained, “Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilization is black.”
An Egyptian lawyer, Mahmoud al-Semary, has even filed a lawsuit with the intention of having Queen Cleopatra banned in Egypt for distorting his country’s history in favor of promoting Afrocentrism. He added that “in order to preserve the Egyptian national and cultural identity among Egyptians all over the world, there must be pride in the makings of such work.”
The actress James herself told the BBC, “We don’t often get to see or hear stories about black queens, and that was really important for me, as well as for my daughter, and just for my community to be able to know those stories because there are tons of them!”
And yet the Queen Cleopatra filmmakers felt compelled to “blackwash” an Egyptian queen of Greek heritage. Director Tina Gharavi decided on James as the actress who would “bring Cleopatra into the 21st century.” She later defended her choice in an essay for Variety, revealingly calling the casting a “political act.” Blaming criticism on the woke term “misogynoir” — bigotry against black women – she asked, “Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister? And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white?”
Her veiled accusation, of course, is that “some people” are racist. But the controversy arose not because “some people” need for Cleopatra to be portrayed as white, but that some other people need for an historical figure who was almost certainly Greek, and “possibly” Egyptian, to be a black African.
In response to anger from Egyptians themselves, Gharavi claimed it’s because “I have asked Egyptians to see themselves as Africans.” Maybe they don’t appreciate her disrespecting their heritage and trying to appropriate them into sub-Saharan Africa.
A number of times in her essay Gharavi mentions the casting of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in Hollywood’s 60-year-old epic, using that as the baseline of her defense of casting a black actress. “What the historians can confirm is that it is more likely that Cleopatra looked like Adele [James] than Elizabeth Taylor ever did,” she sniffs. “So, was Cleopatra Black [sic]? We don’t know for sure, but we can be certain she wasn’t white like Elizabeth Taylor,” Gharavi added later. She goes on to declare condescendingly that “[w]e need to liberate our imaginations, and boldly create a world in which we can explore our historical figures without fearing the complexity that comes with their depiction.”
This is manipulative hogwash. Nobody “fears” the “complexity” of the depiction of historical figures, whatever that means; audiences simply have the right to expect some broad conformity to truth in a project that purports to be a docu-drama. What the Queen Cleopatra filmmakers themselves fear is the complexity of historical truth, because that undermines propaganda. And the insistence that Cleopatra is a black African queen is identity politics propaganda.
Conservative commentator Dennis Prager has often noted that truth is not a left-wing value. That’s because the Left will always jettison the inconvenient truth in favor of narratives that promote revolutionary messaging; hence, the director Gharavi’s statement that “we need to realize that Cleopatra’s story is less about her than it is about who we are.” [emphasis added]
And that’s the real problem with casting actors in an historical drama based on a contemporary ideological goal: you’re not letting history speak for itself and allowing your audience to learn from it; instead of centering your project on the truth, you are appropriating what you want from history and conforming it to your worldview in order to push propaganda. The story suffers, our understanding and appreciation of history suffer, and flesh-and-blood historical movers and shakers are reduced to cardboard vehicles for the promotion of a political agenda.
History is not served, truth is not served, and no one in the audience is served when filmmakers “boldly re-imagine” the past to spread the lies of today.
Originally published at Culture Warrior.
Algorithmic Analyst says
Cleopatra was an important historical figure. Somewhere I remember reading that Rome feared only 2 people, and one was a woman (Cleopatra).
Jerry Gros says
I have a way to fix it, do not watch it. Just like Budweiser learned. If you quit watching Netflix they will get no income and will die away.
Sunny Woman says
I subscribe to Netflix, not wanting to pay for cable. It is my only choice as far as watching movies without obnoxious commercials.
I will NOT be watching Cleopatra.
Gracie Storvika says
I whole-heartedly agree, when fools try to fool me by portraying historical figures as being from a different race than what they were, in order to satisfy some notion of “equality” . . . . . I just do not watch that particular film, program, etc. Not even if it is free to viewers! All this stupid sh*t goin’ on is enough to make my hair catch on fire. Just count me out.
Cleopatra did not look like Elizabeth Taylor. Nor did she look like Adele James. She was not as pretty as either woman. There are far too many images of this queen to mistake her for anyone other than herself. Though as far as coloring goes Elizabeth Taylor probably comes a lot closer to looking like her than does Adele James.
Why this obsession with the colour of a person’s skin? A person should not be judged by the colour of their skin but their character. We are all descendants of the same two humans – Adam and Eve – and no-one can choose their parents or their skin color..
The 2 first humans must have had the genes for both black and white skin and hence their skin color would have been light brown or olive. Their descendants would be black if they had 2 black genes, and white if they had 2 white genes.
** BTW, ‘white’ people are actually a light brown pinkish color, and ‘blacks’ are dark brown due to the high amount of melanin they have.
This isn’t what the article is about. It’s about an historical figure who was white being incorrectly cast as a black woman. Mr. Tapson thoroughly explains why attempting to change history is nonsense.
I will not watch this, just as I would not view a miniseries with a white Rosa Parks.
THX 1138 says
Looking at the bust of Cleopatra she looks like the Star Trek character “Deanna Troi” as portrayed by the actress Marina Sirtis.
Marina Siritis is Greek.
Cleopatra was a slut. The portrayal is appropriate.
Louis B Mayer says
Sophie Okonedo sucked as Queen Margaret.
Mo de Profit says
“ that was really important for me, as well as for my daughter, and just for my community to be able to know those stories because there are tons of them!”
Why don’t they (coloured people) make a movie about the TONS of stories?
Monochromatic Dragon says
Oh, she really means there’s TONS of stories they want to blackwash. It’s really about appropriating our (white) history and making it all about them (blacks).
There used to be a British guy who had a youtube channel called “The Way of the World.” Several years ago he was taken off for complaining about the re-writing of British history with these kind of casting choices, and for actually suggesting that white folks needed a place to live, too. He was very good, very low-key. I wonder where he is now.
Kynarion Hellenis says
David Shelton says
The remake of “The Sound of Music” a few years ago featured a black woman as Mother Superior.
In Austria, in 1938.
The actress had an incredible beautiful voice. But it was so ridiculously ‘in your face’ woke, could hardly watch it.
rocco barbella says
Another example of trying to make a minority group feel good about themselves aka black folks. What’s funny is blacks are constantly scolding whites about appropriating someone’s culture, and yet, blacks are always trying to rewrite history to their benefit.
I remember the iconic picture of American soldiers raising the American flag in Iwo Jimo. Then one day the Left decided to be outraged because it was only white soldiers in the picture. They wanted a black soldier in it. Well sorry, that’s not historically correct. The soldiers raising the flag were white.
This nonsense infuriates people. The Egyptians have a right to be angry.
THX 1138 says
Except that if my understanding is correct the native Egyptians of Cleopatra’s time were not Greeks (or Muslims), they were conquered by the Greeks. Like the British conquered India or the Spaniards conquered Mexico. And although it seems the conquering Greeks tolerated polytheistic-pagan Egyptian culture and did not seek to alter it or destroy it they still remained overwhelmingly Greek and a privileged, ruling class, minority. Like the creole minority Spaniards in colonial Peru or the British in India.
The angry native Muslim Egyptians of today can go suck on a lemon, Cleopatra and the Ptolemys were not of their “race” or culture. And the native ancient Egyptians were polytheistic infidels.
“The early Ptolemies did not disturb the religion or the customs of the Egyptians. They built magnificent new temples for the Egyptian gods and soon adopted the outward display of the pharaohs of old…. Nevertheless, the Greeks always remained a privileged minority in Ptolemaic Egypt. They lived under Greek law, received a Greek education, were tried in Greek courts, and were citizens of Greek cities.” – Wikipedia
Raymond in DC says
Egypt under the Greeks was quite cosmopolitan. The city of Alexandria hosted a significant Jewish population, including the Jewish philosopher Philo, who wrote in Greek. And they were definitely not “black”.
I think I read that one of the soldiers actually was native American.
Black Cleopatra… and their Black Jesus…
I’m sick of all the Black propaganda… and rewriting of History… it’s a satanic islamic thing to do!
Do Blacks suffer this much that they need all this to feel better about themselves… evidently so…
THX 1138 says
“Blackwashing a greek queen proves the obsession with white women and this wouldn’t help stopping racism at all.”
This is an interesting remark. From what I have read in olden times, before the notion of race was ever invented, there was a premium price paid for white female slaves, simply because white beauty was considered superior to any other beauty. Indeed before the late 20th century, fair skin, light eyes, light and straight hair, fine and chiseled features, were considered more beautiful and attractive than their opposite.
The Indians and the Asians, even today, are obsessed with fair skin. Black women, today, are obsessed with straight hair. Who doesn’t find blue, green, grey, or amber eyes hypnotizing?
But we’re now not allowed to admit to this almost instinctive attraction that has existed all over the planet, throughout history, even before the notion of race was ever invented.
What man would rather make love to Whoopi Goldberg instead of Elizabeth Taylor? The only one I can think of is Ted Danson and he was probably virtue signaling.
Spurwing Plover says
Rewrite History to favor one race the P.C. world of Hollywood of today and it will probably be as bad as Liz Taylors version from 1963
They’ve been doing this for decades. In the early 1990s my employer held a Black History Month event where companies had tables to give out stuff. Our black secretary brought back posters given out by a beer company and put them up on her wall. Both Cleopatra (Macedonian) and Hannibal (Phoenician) were depicted as black. I guess when you come from a place that didn’t have written language with which to record your own history, you have to steal other people’s.
There are a few surviving busts of Cleopatra VII and coins bearing her image. They show her as being European/ Macedonian Greek in appearance. Had she been Black, the ancient chroniclers would have noted that fact.
In History Channels, The Bible, Nonso Anozie was cast as Samson who was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. Another reason to question their historical accuracy.
Peter L Valunas says
In the 1970’s Ben Vereen played Judas on Broadway’s Jesus Christ Superstar. My mother and father frequently traveled to NYC to see shows. Mother explained there was controversy because Vereen was African American. However she and many others also expressed that he was magnificent, in that role. It was his talent, skills and charisma as actor, singer, dancer that was superlative. He was even nominated in 1972 for a Tony award. This is what matters in the arts. So let us judge this new Cleopatra by her performance not her appearance.
Highly selective about roles. We’ll never see “Mein Kampf, The Movie,” featuring Denzel Washington in the leading role.
meh… A classic tempest in a teacup.
Darlene Casella says
Mark Tapson is simply brilliant. His analogies spark a lightning rod of understanding about the absurd woke decisions being made in Hollywood and other places with regard to race and skin color.
Robert Hagedorn says
It’s time to go all the way. Produce a sequel depicting Cleopatra as a transwoman.
Victor L says
….or a transman
Victor L. says
I am waiting for a movie with Whoopi Goldberg in the role of Jeanne d’Arc.
M Geller says
Helen Mirren and Ben Kingsley specialise in mopping up Jewish roles,except for Moses, who was played by Christian Slater……
Tex the Mockingbird says
They did remakes of Flight of the Phoenix, Walking Tall and the Nutty Professor and stuck a Black in what was Whites Role they did a remake of Around the World in 80 Days and stuck a Asian(Jackie Chan)in
What was the reaction back in 1956 when RKO released THE CONQUEROR starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan? I wasn’t following media outrage back then.
Andrew Blackadder says
Negroes in America want to be known as African whereas Caucasians in America are not called European and yet European Americans can mostly tell you which country their Heritage came from while ”African” Americans simply say Africa the mother country.
So if the average Negro both in Africa as well as America wishes to make movies about their own Heroes then please do so as many of us of every other Race would like to see them however appropriating Caucasian Historical Figures and Heroes simply looks like Negroes have none worthy of playing in Movies or Stage Plays, as Hamilton an actual US President in the Past, was played by a black guy on a Broadway Stage and they even stopped the show when they noticed Vice President Pence was in the Audience. Dr Who is now a black person, James Bond may soon be black, the Bridgeton BBC TV Series about the Queen centuries ago was played by a black woman and all her subjects who bowed before her were white.
Blacks in America seems to believe that being equal means to be on the same level as white folks therefore they are looking UP at white folks to see what equality looks like.
There’s some kind of psychological insecurity going on here. Exactly what is gained by contorting history to put forth inaccuracies? It looks like this falls under the “what is truth” category wherein, as the left so often does, they make it what they want it to be and not what it is. Why so much disdain for the true historical record? I believe there’s also a bit of Marxism at the base of this crap.
Algorithmic Analyst says
One of my pet ideas has been that Cleopatra was weak on military strategy, which brought Mark Antony down.
Spurwing Plover says
Some claim Moses was a Black Guy without any real hard evidence to show for it its just as ridiculous as replacing BC and AD with BCE and CE
Don’t stop here! Matt Damon as Shaka Zulu and all the Zulus are white! Shaka (Matt) has been captured by the Brits and held at Rorke’s drift. The Zulus have to rescue him! (note to Hollywood: This is satire not a real proposal.)