Dr. Zahi Hawass, one of the most famous Egyptologists and the former Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, has criticized Netflix for its controversial decision to cast Cleopatra with a black actress in an upcoming docuseries.
The new Netflix series, dubbed “Queen Cleopatra”, which is produced and narrated by the American actress Jada Pinkett Smith, has sparked fierce debate over the misrepresentation of history and representation in TV and media.
Hawass, who is Egypt’s most recognizable archaeologist, decried the decision by Netflix to portray Cleopatra as being of black descent, pointing out that the historical figure “was Greek”.
Zahi Hawass criticizes portrayal of Cleopatra by Netflix
“The film that is coming on Netflix is not accurate and gives wrong information on ancient Egypt,” the famous Egyptologist continued.
“Cleopatra was Greek and she was similar to the queens and princesses of Macedonia,” wrote Zahi, alluding to the fact that Cleopatra was a member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty who ruled over Egypt between 305 BC and 30 BC.
The Ptolemaic Dynasty was founded by Ptolemy I Soter, a Macedonian Greek who served Alexander the Great as a general, bodyguard, and historian. When Alexander died and his empire was split between his squabbling generals, Ptolemy established his own kingdom in Egypt.
Misrepresentation of Egyptian history
The Netflix series appears to have angered many Egyptians, as well as Greeks and people with a general interest in history who expressed their disappointment online.
A petition started by two Egyptians calling on Netflix to cancel their upcoming Cleopatra documentary garnered well over 60,000 signatures until it was removed by Change.org for “violating community guidelines”.
In his Facebook Zahi further discussed the historicity of the Netflix documentary vis-a-vis ancient Egypt even beyond the period of Ptolemaic rule.
“If we look at the scenes on the Egyptian temples, we can see that the pharaohs are depicted and in front of them were Nubian, Libyan, and Asian captives; the king is always completely different from all of them,” he wrote.
“During the 25th dynasty, the Kingdom of Kush ruled Egypt and those were Kushite pharaohs but they had nothing to do with ancient Egyptian civilization,” he continued.
The Kingdom of Kush was an ancient Nubian civilization of the Nile Valley. Its territory spanned what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt. At various points throughout their history, the Kushites were both ruled by and ruled over the ancient Egyptians.
Like the Macedonian Greek Ptolemaic Dynasty, they were a foreign people who once ruled over the ancient Egyptians after the foundation of the 25th Dynasty by the Kushite King Piye in the 8th century BC.
Zahi concluded the Facebook post by saying “I am not against black people at all but here I am just listing the evidence that Cleopatra was not black.”