Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra Series Offends Egyptians. What was Offensive?


Popular OTT platform, Netflix released a trailer on April 12th, 2023 for its upcoming historical docu-drama, African Queens: Queen Cleopatra. The series is centred around the life and reign of Queen Cleopatra, one of Egypt’s most romanticized and famous monarchs. 

However, the OTT giant has stirred controversy in Egypt for showing the Egyptian ruler Queen Cleopatra as a black woman, played by actor Jada Pinkett Smith.

This has enraged Egyptians, which has led to many accusing Netflix of “blackwashing” a historical icon.

The controversy

Ever since the release controversy around the queen’s depiction. 

This is completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not black,” says Zahi Hawass, a prominent Egyptologist, and former antiquities minister told the al-Masry al-Youm newspaper: 

Egyptian lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary has filed a complaint that accuses the platform of violating media laws.

The lawyer alleged that the series included visual material and 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“.

But the producer said “her heritage is highly debated” and the actress playing her told critics: “If you don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show.”

Who was Queen Cleopatra?

Historically, Cleopatra was born in 69 BC, in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. She became the last queen of the Greek-speaking dynasty founded by the Macedonian general Ptolemy, general of Alexander the Great. 

She succeeded his father Ptolemy XII and reigned until her death. Then Egypt was taken by the Romans.

As for her parents, the origin of Cleopatra’s mother is unknown, so some historians consider it possible that she was of Egyptian descent or from other parts of Africa.

Queen Cleopatra indeed is the most controversial monarch in history. Her origin is still a topic for debate. However, Netflix’s new show has really enraged Egyptian historians, as they have never considered Cleopatra black.