Egyptian broadcaster vows to make its own Cleopatra documentary

Egyptian broadcaster vows to make its own Cleopatra documentary following Netflix’s ‘blackwashing’ series – as the country insists the queen WAS light-skinned

  • Egypt’s state-affiliated United Media Services’ own documentary channel, Al-Wathaeqya, has now promised to make their own production about Cleopatra
  •  The documentary will use the ‘upmost levels’ of research into the pharaoh

A major Egyptian broadcaster has now promised to create its own documentary about Cleopatra using the ‘upmost levels’ of research following outrage over Netflix’s production starring a dark-skinned actor.  

Egypt slammed Netflix for presenting Cleopatra as black in its new docudrama – accusing the streaming giant of ‘falsifying Egyptian history’. 

African Queens: Queen Cleopatra airs on May 10, and stars 37-year-old English actress Adele James as the titular character.

Netflix casted the black actress as the pharaoh in the new series about the Macedonian-Greek ruler, who Egypt insist had ‘Hellenistic’ features.

Now Egypt’s state-affiliated United Media Services’ own documentary channel, Al-Wathaeqya, has now promised to make their own production about Cleopatra.

Adele James (left) in African Queens: Queen Cleopatra

Egypt’s state-affiliated United Media Services’ own documentary channel, Al-Wathaeqya (logo above) has now promised to make their own production about Cleopatra

The company said they are conducting extensive sessions with ‘a number of specialists in history, archeology, and anthropology,’ in a bid to property paint the correct picture of the queen. 

The ‘upmost levels’ of research and accuracy will go into the documentary, they said.

The documentary channel said in a statement to Egypt Independent: ‘Preparations have begun to produce a documentary about Queen Cleopatra VII, daughter of Ptolemy XII, known as Cleopatra, the last king of the Ptolemaic family, that ruled Egypt in the wake of the death of Alexander the Great.

‘Based on what is always usual in all the work of the Documentary Production Sector and Wathaeqya Channel, there are work sessions currently being held with a number of specialists in history, archeology, and anthropology. 

‘In order to subject research related to the subject of the film and its image to the utmost levels of research and study.’ 

Sherif Saeed is in charge of Egypt’s United Media Services’ new documentary channel, Al-Wathaeqya. And Ahmed Al-Deriny is in charge of the documentary production division. 

The documentary channel aired for the first time in February this year. 

Netflix’s version’s producer Jada Pinkett Smith said she wanted to tell the story because ‘we don’t often get to see or hear stories about black queens.’ 

Pictured: Adele James as the Egyptian Ruler (centre) in the new Netflix series due to release next month

Elizabeth Taylor as the ruler in the 1963 film ‘Cleopatra’ 

Adele James on horseback in the new Cleopatra Netflix series

The trailer, released two weeks ago, claims that Cleopatra was black with ‘curly hair’, which has infuriated Egyptians who slapped down the claim.

This comes after the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Egypt hit back in a lengthy statement with evidence they claim proves Cleopatra had a ‘light complexion’ with ‘Hellenistic characteristics’.

Dr Mustafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Archeology, said the appearance of Cleopatra in the upcoming series was ‘a falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical misconception’

Dr Waziri said: ‘The film is classified as a documentary and not a drama, the order that the owners of its industry have to investigate accuracy and refer to historical and scientific facts in order to ensure that the history and civilizations of peoples is not falsified.

He added archaeologists and anthropologists should have been referred to when making the series.

Alongside their lengthy statement, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities attached images of artefacts and coins with Cleopatra’s depiction on them.

They said they did this to show off her ‘hellenic (greek) features, in terms of light complexion, drawn nose and fluffy lips.’

Dr Waziri said the state of rejection that the film witnessed before its screening comes from defending the history of Queen Cleopatra, which is an important and authentic part of ancient Egyptian history.

Dr. Nasser Mekkawy, Head of the Egyptian Department of Archeology at Cairo University added that Cleopatra’s appearance would have been light-skinned due to her Macedonian origins.

He said that Cleopatra descended from an ancient Macedonian dynasty that ruled Egypt for nearly 300 years.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities shared images of the bust of the ruler (left) to show she did have a ‘light complexion’

In the show, which is due to air on May 10, Cleopatra is depicted as black, despite historical records showing she was of Macedonian Greek heritage

The Ministry also said that anthropology studies and DNA studies conducted on mummies and bones confirmed that Egyptians do not bear the features of South-Saharan Africans.

Egyptians reacted with horror to the denial of records which show Cleopatra was Macedonian-Greek.

An Egyptian lawyer filed a case with the country’s public prosecutor demanding Netflix be shutdown.

Cairo’s former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass condemned the documentary as ‘completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not black.’

Hawass said the only rulers of Egypt known to have been black were the Kushite kings of the 25th Dynasty (747-656 BC).

‘Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilization is black,’ he added and called on his countrymen to take a stand against the streaming giant.

Lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary filed a complaint with the public prosecutor demanding that he take ‘the necessary legal measures’ to block access to Netflix.

He alleged the show featured content that violated Egypt’s media laws and accused Netflix of trying to ‘promote the Afrocentric thinking … which includes slogans and writings aimed at distorting and erasing the Egyptian identity.’

Egyptian actress and singer Somaya Elkhashab tweeted: ‘Identifying Queen Cleopatra as black for fulfilling modern African American fantasies is pure theft of egyptian history and yet an attempt to rewrite history’s greats.

Cleopatra was famously played by white English actress Elizabeth Taylor opposite Richard Burton as Mark Anthony in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s historical epic from 1963.

Earlier this week, Queen Cleopatra director Tina Gharavi responded to the claims of ‘blackwashing’ by penning an op-ed for Variety amid the pushback after the debut of the trailer.

In her Variety piece, Gharavi pointed to the late Taylor playing the role in the 1963 film Cleopatra, and pointing out the cultural appropriation she picked up on as a child.

The trailer for the series, due to launch May 10, notes that Cleopatra belonged to the Ptolemaic dynasty but then goes on to dispute her heritage.

Netflix had to turn comments off on the official trailer, after it was met with controversy.

The four-part Cleopatra series will explore the legacy, intellect and life of Cleopatra VII, the Greek Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC. 

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