Queen Cleopatra director responds to “hate campaign” over Netflix casting

Adele James as Queen Cleopatra in the Netflix seriesNetflix

Tina Gharavi, the director behind Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra docuseries, has fired back at the “laughable” backlash over casting a biracial Black actress as the titular ruler.

African Queens: Queen Cleopatra dropped its first trailer last week and was met with immediate controversy over the casting of Adele James, sparking accusations of “blackwashing.”

Two separate petitions against the show garnered nearly 90,000 signatures before they were taken down, hoping to get it canceled for “falsifying history”, while an Egyptian lawyer filed a complaint via the country’s public prosecutor to stop Netflix’s distribution of the series.

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Gharavi has since responded to the uproar and “online hate campaign” while opening up about her decision to cast James in the role.

Queen Cleopatra director hits out at backlash over Black Cleopatra

In an op-ed for Variety, the filmmaker cited Elizabeth Taylor’s iconic performance in 1963’s Cleopatra, once the most expensive movie ever made and one that was also the subject of controversy over its casting. “I remember as a kid seeing Elizabeth Taylor play Cleopatra. I was captivated, but even then, I felt the image was not right,” she wrote.

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“Was her skin really that white? With this new production, could I find the answers about Cleopatra’s heritage and release her from the stranglehold that Hollywood had placed on her image?”

As per BBC News, an archeologist claimed Cleopatra was “light-skinned, not Black”, and historians attest that she was Macedonian-Greek, while her mother’s identity isn’t known.

Gharavi knew her casting of James would be seen as a “political act… why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister? 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.”

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“Perhaps, it’s not just that I’ve directed a series that portrays Cleopatra as Black, but that I have asked Egyptians to see themselves as Africans, and they are furious at me for that. I am okay with this,” she added.

Gharavi praised James, saying she “conveys not only Cleopatra’s beauty, but also her strength”, and called out the “laughable” threats to “ruin” her career.

“So, was Cleopatra Black? We don’t know for sure, but we can be certain she wasn’t white like Elizabeth Taylor. We need to have a conversation with ourselves about our colorism, and the internalized white supremacy that Hollywood has indoctrinated us with,” she said.

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African Queens: Queen Cleopatra will be released on Netflix on May 10, 2023. You can check out our other Netflix coverage here.

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