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Egypt Announces its Own Cleopatra Documentary Amid Netflix Controversy

"Vatican Cleopatra"
Marble bust of Cleopatra made between 30 and 40 BC in the collection of the Vatican Museums. Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

A television channel in Egypt has announced that it will produce its own Cleopatra documentary amid the current controversy surrounding the docudrama produced by Netflix, Queen Cleopatra.

The new Egyptian channel, Al-Watha’eqeya, made the announcement in late April and expressed their intentions to work closely with historians, archaeologists, and subject matter experts to ensure that the documentary is accurate and reliable.

Meanwhile, Netflix has found itself in hot water for the decision to depict Cleopatra VII Philopator as a black woman, portrayed by the actress Adele James, when the historical figure was of Greek Macedonian descent. The docuseries has been widely criticized for historical revisionism and was dismissed by the Egyptian Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Archaeology as being a misrepresentation of history.

Egypt produces its own Cleopatra series to rival Netflix

Less than a month after Netflix provoked a strong backlash by releasing a trailer for the Queen Cleopatra docudrama, Egyptian television channel Al-Watha’eqeya revealed that it would be producing its own documentary on the famous Ptolemaic queen of Egypt.

On the Facebook post that revealed the upcoming documentary, the TV network made it clear that the producers would be working closely with specialists to ensure that an accurate portrayal of Cleopatra was achieved.

A date for the release of the Cleopatra documentary produced in Egypt has not yet been given, although the Netflix series is set to debut on May 10.

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


The Netflix docudrama, 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 released in April.

Mostafa Waziri, the Egyptian Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Archaeology even got involved, commenting that “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”.

Dr. Nasser Mekkawy, Head of the Egyptian Department of Archaeology at Cairo University also commented on the Netflix docudrama last month and explained that Cleopatra was a Greek Macedonian member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, contrary to Netflix’s inaccurate portrayal.

Tina Gharavi, the director of the Netflix series spoke out last month about the controversy. “I realized what a political act it would be to see Cleopatra portrayed by a Black actress,” she commented.

“Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister?” the director opined, “And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white? Her proximity to whiteness seems to give her value, and for some Egyptians it seems to really matter.”

It remains to be seen whether criticism of the Netflix series will abate or intensify when Queen Cleopatra is released on May 10.

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