You’re a history teacher, an enthusiast, or simply someone who’s just all about facts and sciences. You wake up one day, get out of bed, head out to your kitchen, decide to make yourself your daily cup of coffee and scroll through your social media feed before going to work. While scrolling, you come across an announcement for a new Netflix documentary. Next thing you know, it’s a documentary about Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, portrayed by a black actress.
You start questioning yourself and your basic knowledge: “Was Cleopatra actually black?” so you go to Google and search for the answer, and the answer is basic and obvious: Cleopatra is not black. She’s from Greek and Macedonian descendants. There are also signs of Persian ancestry in her family tree. And the odds of her being black are slim to non-existent due to the fact that the generations that came before her birth intermarried.
So why is Jada Pinkett Smith, the director of the new series, portraying Cleopatra as someone different than she was? Well, it seems that she would be doing so only to stress the empowerment of black women and their role in life since ancient history. But if she were to do so, shouldn’t she have picked a “real” African queen? “They could have focused on actual African queens, like Amina of Nigeria, Ana [Njinga] of Angola, or Nandi of the Zulu Nation,” TikTok user JiannaEwuresi said in a video. The contributions of those queens to the African continent have had a profound impact on its history, serving to underscore the significance of women, particularly black women, in shaping the course of human events. These exceptional women not only left an enduring legacy within their own societies, but their remarkable achievements have also resonated beyond their borders. So has Cleopatra, as she ruled Egypt for 21 years and was the last queen of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, but she isn’t the right queen for Jada’s message.
Of course, the announcement made by Netflix sparked a huge wave of criticism all over the internet. People all over the world have accused Netflix of rewriting history and making it fit to their own perspective and specific to the message they want to deliver. Egyptian lawyers have filed a case with the Public Prosecutor to shut down the Netflix platform in Egypt as well as serious legal action to be taken against the company and those responsible for making that “crime.” Even Egyptians such as Maha Shehata, a fashion model, and Aikk Yasser, a musician, created a petition on Change.org calling for Netflix to cancel the release of the docuseries as it was “falsifying history,” garnering almost 85,000 signatures within two days until the platform removed it. Netflix has faced accusations of historical inaccuracies on multiple occasions, such as the controversies surrounding their Vikings Valhalla series and the ethnicity of King Yaroslav the Wise. Similarly, the film The Woman King sparked a debate about “racebending” in historical storytelling, thus highlighting the ongoing discussions surrounding issues of representation and accuracy in media.
If they wanted to change the historical facts, they could have labeled the series under a different category than “Documentary” since documentaries are supposed to be accurate to the facts they’re trying to represent. What if a documentary about a black figure such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Muhammad Ali was made, and the main character was a white actor? What would the reaction be? And why choose a “white” queen and portray it with a black actress to “empower black women”? The queens mentioned above in the article, or any other historical black figure, wouldn’t have made a better representation for the empowerment of black women? Isn’t that a kind of disrespect to them?
In the end historical facts cannot be changed regardless of how some try to portray them and feed them to the masses. And one thing for sure, is that trying to enforce opinions and decisions will only provoke more people and will only lead to more separation and hate in societies.