Why it Matters if a Black Actress Plays Cleopatra

Why it Matters if a Black Actress Plays Cleopatra. By Mark Tapson.

Executive produced by disgraced Hollywood star Will Smith’s wife, open-marriage enthusiast Jada Pinkett Smith

Imagine, if you will, that Netflix produced a miniseries based on the life of the 19th century Zulu warrior-king Shaka Zulu, and cast white actor Matt Damon in the lead role. Or what if the woke streaming giant made a movie based on Rosa Parks’ refusal in 1955 to give up her seat on the bus – a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement – and hired blonde actress Charlize Theron to play Parks? How about if Netflix aired a bio-pic of black abolitionist, orator, and statesman Frederick Douglass (a great idea, by the way; let’s talk, Netflix) and gave Hugh Jackman the part?

Imagine the apoplexy from the hypersensitive culture scolds, the cultural appropriation police, of the Left. “You can’t cast Matt Damon as Shaka Zulu!” they would scream. “Shaka Zulu was black!” “Charlize Theron as Rosa Parks?! Are you insane, Netflix?!” “Jackman as Douglass?! Talk about white privilege!

And they would be absolutely correct to condemn these inexplicable casting choices. Why? Because as capable and world-famous as Damon, Theron, and Jackman might be, they are white and would be historically inaccurate and therefore jarringly inappropriate playing famous black figures. Similarly, it would be laughable to cast Hugh Jackman as, say, Joan of Arc — because she was a real-life historical figure who was inarguably not a middle-aged man (despite contemporary efforts to erase her femaleness and depict her as “nonbinary”).


But put a black actress in the role of a white historical figure, such as Henry VIII discard Anne Boleyn, and suddenly the casting is “daring” and “imaginative,” and every progressive media outlet in the known universe will defend it on social justice grounds. And if you speak up to note that the real Anne Boleyn was undeniably white, and therefore casting a black actress would make the project distractingly nonfactual, then you are smeared as upholding white supremacist culture. …

Cleopatra was Greek (white), not black:

Scholarly debates and investigations into the heritage of Cleopatra VII are legion, but the consensus is that the Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC was of Macedonian descent, with the prominent aquiline nose common among the Romans and Greeks, and may have had an olive skin tone. No serious scholar argues that she was a black African. …

Warner Todd Huston at Breitbart News cites historian and author Kemi Owonibi as asserting, “For the nth time, the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra was not an Egyptian. She was Greek! Cleopatra VII was white — of Macedonian descent, likewise all the Ptolemy rulers, who lived in Egypt.”

Cultural appropriation:

Speaking of Egypt, its people are none-too-thrilled about Netflix playing fast and loose with the casting of their iconic queen. Celebrated Egyptian actress Somaya Elkhashab blasted it on Twitter: “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. Blackwashing a greek queen proves the obsession with white women and this wouldn’t help stopping racism at all.” …

Why do the woke need Cleopatra to be black?

Blaming criticism on the woke term “misogynoir” — bigotry against black women – [Director Tina Gharavi] asked, “Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister? And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white?”

Her veiled accusation, of course, is that “some people” are racist. But the controversy arose not because “some people” need for Cleopatra to be portrayed as white, but that some other people need for an historical figure who was almost certainly Greek, and “possibly” Egyptian, to be a black African. …

Manipulative hogwash:

She goes on to declare condescendingly that “[w]e need to liberate our imaginations, and boldly create a world in which we can explore our historical figures without fearing the complexity that comes with their depiction.”

This is manipulative hogwash. Nobody “fears” the “complexity” of the depiction of historical figures, whatever that means; audiences simply have the right to expect some broad conformity to truth in a project that purports to be a docu-drama. What the Queen Cleopatra filmmakers themselves fear is the complexity of historical truth, because that undermines propaganda. And the insistence that Cleopatra is a black African queen is identity politics propaganda.

Leftists value narrative over truth, as usual:

And that’s the real problem with casting actors in an historical drama based on a contemporary ideological goal: you’re not letting history speak for itself and allowing your audience to learn from it; instead of centering your project on the truth, you are appropriating what you want from history and conforming it to your worldview in order to push propaganda.

Egypt is not and was not black. By Raymond Ibrahim.

Ancient Egypt was Egyptian; to claim otherwise, to attribute its achievements to another race or people, is not just an unconscious but very conscious form of cultural appropriation. …

Although on the same land mass, Black Africa and Egypt are, it is often forgotten, separated by the world’s largest desert, the Sahara. Historically, and even today, this inhospitable and desiccated region was immensely difficult to traverse. There was, moreover, very little incentive for anyone to go on such a life-threatening trek.

Conversely, even though Europe and North Africa are separated by a sea, thanks to the ancient invention of boats, the Mediterranean served as an easily crossed bridge between the two continents all throughout antiquity. Hence why Egypt was an important part of the Greco-Roman world. …

Not only are Egyptians not racially Black — which I know from personal, familial, and travel experience — but Cleopatra wasn’t even Egyptian. She was Greek, specifically Macedonian, a descendant of Alexander the Great’s general, Ptolemy I.

Next up from Netflix:

hat-tip Stephen Neil