A Netflix docudrama series that depicts Queen Cleopatra VII as a black African has sparked controversy in Egypt.
A lawyer has filed a complaint that accuses African Queens: Queen Cleopatra of violating media laws and aiming to “erase the Egyptian identity”.
A top archaeologist insisted Cleopatra was “light-skinned, not black”.
But the producer said “her heritage is highly debated” and the actress playing her told critics: “If you don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show.”
Adele James made the comment in a Twitter post that included screengrabs of abusive comments that included racist slurs.
Cleopatra was born in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in 69 BC and became the last queen of a Greek-speaking dynasty founded by Alexander the Great’s Macedonian general Ptolemy.
She succeeded her father Ptolemy XII in 51 BC and ruled until her death in 30 BC. Afterwards, Egypt fell under Roman domination.
The identity of Cleopatra’s mother is not known, and historians say it is possible that she, or any other female ancestor, was an indigenous Egyptian or from elsewhere in Africa.
Netflix’s companion website Tudum reported in February that the choice to cast Adele James, who is of mixed race, as Cleopatra in its new documentary series was “a nod to the centuries-long conversation about the ruler’s race”.
Jada Pinkett Smith, the American actress who was executive producer and narrator, was meanwhile quoted as saying: “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!”