Once again, the mainstream media takes a white historical figure and hires a non-white person to play them in a new on-screen portrayal. While this trend of taking white characters – both fictitious and historical alike – and having them be portrayed by non-white actors has been going on for several years now across film, television and even video games, the most recent controversial race-swap revolves around the portrayal of the famous historical figure that is Queen Cleopatra of Egypt (70/69 BC – 30 BC).
A new documentary series called African Queens has recently been released on Netflix and is intended to tell the stories of various different historical…well, African queens. The first season focused on Nzinga, Queen of Ndongo & Matamba (1583 – 1663) – territories which now form part of the country of Angola – and was met with a mixed reception from critics, citing its rather lazy and uninspired attempts at portraying an area of African history that gets very little to no attention whatsoever. However, with the recent release of the trailer for the upcoming second season of the documentary, the public reception was certainly not mixed at all – it was overwhelmingly negative. Why? Primarily because the second season is set to depict the life of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, yet Cleopatra herself is set to be played by a black woman.
Who Was Cleopatra?
Cleopatra ruled Egypt between the years 51 BC – 30 BC and was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. This dynasty began with Ptolemy I (367 BC – 282 BC), a Macedonian Greek general who was most famous for being one of the main commanders in the armies of Alexander the Great (356 BC – 323 BC). Following the death of Alexander in 323 BC, Ptolemy founded the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt.
Emphasis here within the context of Cleopatra’s ethnic and racial background must be placed on the inherently Greek nature of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, because, along with supporting historical evidence in the form of written accounts and artistic works, it is undisputed academic fact that Cleopatra was historically a white woman, not black, as depicted in Netflix’s African Queens series. In fact, so Greek was the Ptolemaic Dynasty, rulers of the lineage partook extensively in incest and inbreeding, thus keeping the Greek genetics within the dynastic line, as highly disturbing as the act of incest is, regardless of the historical era. Members of the ruling elite of Ptolemaic Egypt were also predominantly ethnically Greek. The inherently Greek nature of the Ptolemaic Dynasty was also so strong, Cleopatra – the last of the dynasty – was the only one of the lineage’s rulers to have spoken a language other than Greek – the Egyptian language itself. There is also evidence that Cleopatra also spoke Ethiopian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Syriac, Median, Parthian and Latin. Cleopatra’s high intelligence has also been historically recorded. Even her very name is itself inherently Greek. The name Cleopatra is a combination of the Greek words kleos (glory) and pater (father), thus the meaning of her name can be roughly translated as Glory to Her Father.
Regarding Netflix’s portrayal of Cleopatra, it is already bad enough when a historical drama series race-swaps characters, but it is even worse when a self-described documentary, with the intention of educating its audience, deliberately goes out of its way to portray its characters completely inaccurately. It is made even more evident that this series has a racially-motivated agenda behind it when one simply watches the trailer itself. Even the so-called “experts” interviewed for the documentary have made some more-than-questionable statements about Cleopatra and her ethnic and racial background. One woman interviewed stated that “it was possible that she was an Egyptian”. The evidence contradicting this claim is overwhelming, given the historical records which heavily emphasise her Greek heritage.
Another “expert” – who appears to be of North African or Arabic descent, but it is not clear exactly – stated that he imagines Cleopatra to have had similar dark, curly hair and dark skin as he does. At best, while Cleopatra could well have had darker, curlier hair and a somewhat darker complexion, she would have looked little different to Greek women nowadays with dark, curly hair and sun-kissed skin.
Finally – and, conveniently, near the end of the trailer, and amidst a dramatic pause in the music, just to highlight the message even more strongly – an older, black woman states that her grandmother had allegedly once told her, “I don’t care what they taught you in school. Cleopatra was black.” With all due respect to this woman’s grandmother – as confused as she may have been with this belief about Cleopatra – this part of the trailer was arguably the most controversial and sparked the most outrage among audiences, as it only solidified the popular belief that the creators of this series are deliberately going out of their way to try and claim that Cleopatra was black, not a white, Greek woman.
This is an excerpt from the official description of the series from its trailer on YouTube:
Cleopatra’s heritage has been the subject of much academic debate, which has often been ignored by Hollywood. Now, our series reassesses this fascinating part of her story.
Firstly, Cleopatra’s heritage has NOT been the subject of academic debate whatsoever. Her Greek heritage is universally accepted by academics worldwide as fact and there is a plethora of historical evidence to support this. Secondly, Cleopatra’s heritage as depicted in Hollywood has often been portrayed correctly – as a woman of Greek ethnicity and with white skin (at most, sun-kissed/tanned skin). Thirdly, what this new Netflix series is trying to do is NOT “reassessing” Cleopatra’s story – it is trying to rewrite and revise her story to fit in more along the lines of the racially-motivated agendas of its creators, not to portray an accurate depiction of Cleopatra and her real, Greek background. African Queens is quite simply yet another example of “blackwashing” – the taking of white characters and having them be portrayed by non-white actors, for the sake of either “diversity” or telling the so-called “real” stories of white historical figures which black nationalist activists claim as their own.
Instead of taking white historical figures and depicting them as black, what these filmmakers should be doing instead is to take historical stories from Africa and bring these lesser-known stories to our attention, so we can all be exposed to real stories from the African continent, thus educating us in real history. As an avid lover of history myself, I personally would not object at all to learning more about REAL African history and learning more about the various people and cultures from that continent. I am also sure that many others would be just as interested in learning more about African history as well. What we do not want, however, is for our own white, European histories to be appropriated and perverted by black racial propagandists for the sake of claiming our history as their own. Such moves will only lead us to believe that black nationalist activists are not at all aware of their own people’s histories, so they instead claim white history as their own, attempting to take credit for achievements belonging to the ancestors – and, thus, descendants – of white people and their own respective nations.
ETN Board Member (Serbia)