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Cleopatra was Greek Says Egypt in Response to Netflix Controversy

"Queen Cleopatra" Netflix
Cleopatra as depicted by actress Adele James in the Netflix series “Queen Cleopatra”. Credit: Netflix

On Thursday, the Egyptian Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Archeology weighed in on the ongoing controversy surrounding the Netflix documentary “Queen Cleopatra”.

Dr. Mustafa Waziri, the Secretary General, was highly critical of the decision to portray Cleopatra VII Philopator as being black, and highlighted the weight of the historical evidence confirming that she was of Greek descent.

The documentary, which is produced by Jada Pinkett Smith and stars Adele James as Cleopatra has been the subject of intense criticism and derision since the trailer was unveiled two weeks ago. Egyptians in particular have decried the documentary as a blatant example of historical revisionism and cultural insensitivity.

Cleopatra Greek Egyptian ministry of Culture
Credit: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Egypt responds to Netflix “Queen Cleopatra” controversy

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities issued a lengthy statement on social media clarifying their position on the ongoing drama surrounding the decision of Netflix to portray Cleopatra as a woman of black African descent.

“The Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Archaeology confirms that Queen Cleopatra was light-skinned and [had] Hellenic features (Greek),” read the opening statement. “Queen Cleopatra’s works and statues are the best evidence of her true features and Macedonian origins.”

Busts of Cleopatra
To bring further light to the historical record, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities shared several ancient depictions of Cleopatra and the Ptolemies. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities / Facebook

Dr. Mustafa Waziri denounced the Netflix documentary, saying “The appearance of the heroine in this body is a falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical misconception, especially (given) that the film is classified as a documentary and not a drama”.

The Secretary General concluded by saying that “The state of rejection that the film witnessed before its screening comes from the heart of defending the history of Queen Cleopatra VII, which is an important and authentic part of ancient Egyptian history, and away from any ethnic racism, certainly on the full respect for African civilizations and our brothers in the African continent that unites us all.”

Historicity of the documentary

The statement issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities also included the comments of Dr. Nasser Mekkawy, Head of the Egyptian Department of Archaeology at Cairo University.

“Queen Cleopatra’s appearance in this film in this body competes with the simplest historical facts and the writings of historians such as Plutarchus and Diocasius,” said the Egyptologist.

“Queen Cleopatra VII descended from an ancient Macedonian dynasty that ruled Egypt for nearly 300 years, founded by King Ptolemaios I (Ptolemy), a Macedonian leader of the army of Alexander the Great, to which the state of Egypt came after the death of Alexander and founded the Ptolemaic family,” Mekkawy said.

Cleopatra coin
An ancient coin depicting Cleopatra VII. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities / Facebook

In the statement, Mekkawy continued to explain how the Ptolemaic dynasty, to which Cleopatra belonged, maintained their Greek heritage over the course of several generations until their rule over Egypt came to an end in 30 BC. In fact, the Ptolemies practiced sibling marriage and incest in order to maintain the “purity” of their bloodline.

Mekkawy was also keen to stress the differentiation that exists between the ancient Egyptians and Sub-Saharan Africans, saying that “Biological anthropology studies and DNA studies conducted on ancient Egyptian mummies and bones confirmed that Egyptians do not bear the features of South-Sahara Africans, whether in the form of the skull, genital anthropology, or DNA”.

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