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Netflix’s Cleopatra: Why Greeks Should be Concerned

Cleopatra Netflix
Credit: Netflix

The recent Cleopatra Netflix documentary produced by the American Jada Pinkett Smith has been controversial for containing numerous historical falsifications which have thus far not been addressed by the Netflix company.

By Dr. Arthur Saniotis

Principal among these is depicting Cleopatra VII (and her family) as ‘black’ which counters all historical depictions of the famous Queen.

While the Cleopatra series has received the lowest audience approval rating (3%) for a Netflix program in its history, it has also succeeded in offending Egyptians and Greeks. The Egyptian government has condemned the documentary outright, citing distortion of Egyptian history.

Responding to the words of former Antiquities Minister Zawi Hawaas who urged someone to challenge Netflix, an Egyptian lawyer Mahmood al-Semary has filed a lawsuit with the Egyptian public prosecutor to ban the Netflix platform in Egypt.

Furthermore, the Egyptian state-affiliated documentary channel Al-Wathaeqya has indicated its own production of Cleopatra to counter Hollywood’s “woke washing” version.

It does not end here. A group of Egyptian archaeologists and lawyers has asked UNESCO to mediate its demand of USD 2 billion in compensation for the alleged misrepresentation of Egyptian history by Netflix. Also, Egyptian filmmakers are in the process of making their own Cleopatra series, this time keeping true to historic accounts and using Egyptian actors.

In response to the outcry of the documentary by the Egyptian government and ordinary Egyptians and Greeks, the English-born black actress Adelle James, who portrays Cleopatra, responded that they were all racists.

Furthermore, in one interview James said that her objectors were threatened by her ‘skin tone’, oblivious that her skin tone was not the issue but rather how Cleopatra has been represented. Similarly, the documentary’s director Tina Gharavi could not understand why people were making such a fuss on depicting a ‘black’ Cleopatra. Any attempt at portraying historical accuracy was deemed irrelevant.

While the Egyptians have been vociferous in their response to the Netflix documentary, the Greeks have been also concerned by the falsification of their history.

Historical revisionism

Greeks and Egyptians are no strangers to historical revisionism. Their cultures, which share an ancient bond, are again being subjected to Afrocentric ideolog spread by global corporations intent on indoctrinating the world with their ‘woke’ dogma.

Afrocentric ideology gathered pace in the 20th century as a reaction to Western colonialism that had erased African histories. The principal aims of the movement was in restoring self-determination and pride in African cultures and their unique contributions to the world. Given the extensive and brutal oppression of African cultures during the colonial era the aims of the Afrocentric movement were upright.

However, some notable Afrocentrists like Cheikh Anta Diop argued that the Egyptian civilization was “black’’ African and the first to develop most of our sciences and technologies. Both assertions were wrong.

The American Afrocentrist Ivan Van Sertima further claimed that the Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica derived from ancient Nubians who had traveled there during the 25th Egyptian dynasty (744 to 656 BC).

According to Van Sertima the Nubians taught the Olmecs pyramid building, mummification and other technological innovations which informed Mesoamerican religion and mythology.

Even the famous Olmec heads were modelled after Nubians. Unsurprisingly, Van Sertima’s Afrocentric hypothesis was demolished by Mesoamerican researchers for being more pseudoscience than based on fact. His theory also dismissed the abilities of Native Americans to forge their own technologies and cultural knowledge.

Netflix’s Cleopatra tampers with history

Greeks need to be especially concerned because this latest tampering with their history has serious implications.

Let me explain: in 2018, Netflix produced a series on the Trojan War. However, what was different in this version was the use of black actors who portrayed Achilles, Nestor and Zeus. While there were many viewers who expressed surprise at this race-swapping of the cast, not much fuss was made since “The Iliad” was deemed to be a work of fiction. Artistic license was allowed.

However, Netflix did not leave it there. Not content with tinkering with Greek mythology, Netflix has ventured into distorting Greek-Egyptian history. It is now conflating fiction with historical fact. The question remains as to where all of this is going?

Perhaps the Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef can enlighten us. Expressing his disdain of the Cleopatra documentary on Piers Morgan Uncensored, Youssef said, “I don’t want to wake up one day and find the Museum of African American Cultural History claiming that the stolen Egyptian artifacts in the British Museum are theirs’’, Point noted.

My major concern is how AI may be used in the near future to generate fake history and misinformation. The increasing sophistication of AI will make it virtually impossible to verify real from fake images.

To prove my point, the German artist Boris Eldagsen won the 2023 Sony Photography Award for his ghostly black and white photograph of two women titled Pseudomnesia: The Electrician. The problem was that his photograph was generated by AI. Eldagsen then refused the award stating that he wanted to highlight the realities of AI.

The future capabilities of AI will certainly be used to assert ideologies of every ilk. This is bad news for history as AI will be able to generate any number of false histories that will confuse even historical experts. For the time being, Greeks and Egyptians need to be aware of the capabilities of future AI in order to protect their precious histories.

Dr Arthur Saniotis is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at Adelaide Medical School, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, The University of Adelaide

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