Egyptian lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary officially filed a lawsuit against Netflix’s documentary “Queen Cleopatra” after its recent trailer revealed that the figure would be depicted as Black.
Netflix’s series inspired controversy after revealing a trailer for the series on Apr. 12. In the trailer, Cleopatra is portrayed by actress Adele James, a Black actress, despite several historians and Egyptian critics pointing out that Cleopatra was likely not Black.
While speaking to Egypt Independent, al-Semary’s legal complaint referred to the series as a “forgery” and attacked Netflix for “this crime” of misleading viewers.
“Most of what Netflix platform displays do not conform to Islamic and societal values and principles, especially Egyptian ones,” the complaint read.
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In addition to calling for an investigation into alleged Netflix management, the lawsuit asked for Netflix itself to be blocked from Egypt as well as any broadcast depicting a distorted view of Egyptian history or identity.
“In order to preserve the Egyptian national and cultural identity among Egyptians all over the world and take pride in it, and to consolidate the spirit of belonging to the homeland, and accordingly we ask and seek you to take the necessary legal measures against this platform.” the complaint insisted.
Cleopatra was known as the last Ptolemy ruler which many have pointed out would likely make her of Greek or Macedonian descent. Though her race has not been confirmed, somehave doubted that this heritage would make her Black.
Former Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass also referred to the series as “falsifying facts.”
“Netflix is trying to stir up confusion to spread false information that the origin of Egyptian civilization is black,” Hawass argued, insisting that “Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was blonde, not Black.”
Despite this, Netflix and people involved in the series have defended the casting since its first look was revealed in February.
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Egyptian Archeology researcher Dr. Sally-Anne Ashton was interviewed for the series and said, “Given that Cleopatra represents herself as an Egyptian, it seems strange to insist on depicting her as wholly European…Cleopatra ruled in Egypt long before the Arab settlement in North Africa. If the maternal side of her family were indigenous women, they would’ve been African, and this should be reflected in contemporary representations of Cleopatra.”
Actress Jada Pinkett Smith also explained, “This particular project went through many different machinations, but it started with Willow… I really wanted to represent Black women,”
She continued, “We don’t often get to see or hear stories about Black queens, and that was really important for me, as well as for my daughter, and just for my community to be able to know those stories because there are tons of them! The sad part is that we don’t have ready access to these historical women who were so powerful and were the backbones of African nations.”
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“Queen Cleopatra” will air on Netflix May 10. It is the second season of an “African Queens” docudrama which previously followed 17th-century warrior Queen Njinga.