(Cairo) Cleopatra had “white skin and Hellenistic features”, ruled the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities on Thursday, while Netflix announced the upcoming release of a docu-fiction in which a black actress plays the famous queen, sparking passionate reactions.
Queen Cleopatra, produced by Jada Pinkett Smith and billed as “based on re-enactments and expert testimony,” premieres May 10 on the video-on-demand platform.
The trailer assures that this docu-fiction traces the life of the last pharaoh of Egypt, “in fight to defend his throne, his family and his work”, but even before its diffusion, it arouses a lively controversy in Egypt.
Many netizens saw it as a rewrite of history while an online petition, titled “Stop Cleopatra documentary on Netflix for historical tampering”, garnered over 40,000 signatures.
And, in a country where voices regularly call for Netflix to be banned for content deemed offensive to Egypt or “its family values”, MP Saboura al-Sayyed has asked parliament for the umpteenth time to ban the platform.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Antiquities released a lengthy statement quoting numerous experts, all of whom were adamant: Cleopatra had “white skin and Hellenistic features,” they all conclude.
“The bas-reliefs and statues of Queen Cleopatra are the best proof of this,” the ministry continues in its text embellished with tetradrachms, Greek coins, and marble statues depicting Cleopatra with European features.
For Moustafa Waziri, patron of Egyptian Antiquities, depicting the sovereign as a black woman is nothing but a “falsification of Egyptian history”.
But this call to order is above all motivated by “the defense of the story of Queen Cleopatra, which is an important part of the history of ancient Egypt, regardless of any racial consideration”, he wishes to specify. .
Regularly in Egypt, Internet users and commentators denounce campaigns, mainly from African-American groups, claiming the origin of Egyptian civilization.
Cleopatra belonged to the Macedonian dynasty of the Lagides, descended from General Ptolemy who, during the division of the empire of Alexander the Great, became king of Egypt who saw the Hellenistic civilization flourish on the banks of the Nile.
If the legend says that the queen born around 69 BC was of great beauty, her appearance and her skin color remain largely subject to interpretation.
In 2009, a BBC documentary claimed that she had African blood, without arousing passions.