Cleopatra was not black: Egyptian experts slam Netflix for misrepresenting history in new drama-documentary

Daily News Egypt
9 Min Read

Dozens of films and TV series have depicted the ancient Egyptian ruler Cleopatra over the years. With every attempt to explore the unknown heritage of Cleopatra, a sensitive debate emerged amongst historians, and an upcoming Netflix series about Queen Cleopatra reheated the argument in regards to the actress chosen to portray the queen.

Netflix has announced that it will produce a series of documentaries exploring the lives of prominent African queens, and it will kick off the series with the historical personality Cleopatra, because she was the most famous and powerful woman in the world at the time. However, the series, scheduled to be released on 10 May, raised a lot of controversy about the race of Cleopatra, as the official promo showed that the actress who plays Cleopatra was a brunette woman! As the heated debate attracted more attention on social media, Daily News Egypt turned to experts for information about the ancient queen.

Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass said that Cleopatra was not black, and she had Greek ancestry.

Hawass indicated that Cleopatra looked like Macedonian princesses and queens, noting that the queen’s statues proved the claim that Cleopatra was black wrong.

“And if we look at ancient Egypt, we will find that it is not a black civilization, and there are scenes of the pharaoh on the temples and tombs as he strikes the enemies and in front of him are people from Africa, Libya and Asia, and we will not find any similarities between the pharaoh and the neighbouring peoples,” he added.

Hawass added that he knows that the Kingdom of Kush ruled Egypt in the 25th Dynasty, and this is in the late era, but they have no connection with the Pharaonic civilization.

Hawass clarified that he is not against blacks at all, but he found that it is his duty, as Egyptologist, to clarify the facts and declare that Cleopatra was not black.

Falsification of Egyptian history

Meanwhile, Mostafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that the appearance of the queen in this form is a falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical fallacy, especially given that the movie is categorised as a documentary and not a dramatic work, which calls for those in charge of its making to look into accuracy and rely on historical and scientific facts to ensure that the history and civilizations of peoples are not misrepresented.

He went on to say that given the abundance of Queen Cleopatra artefacts, such as statues and depictions on coins that attest to her actual features, all of whom display the Hellenistic (Greek) characteristics of Queen Cleopatra, such as fair skin, a drawn-out nose, and thin lips.

He stressed that it is important to consult anthropologists and archaeologists when making historical documentaries and films that will serve as witnesses to various civilizations’ and countries’ histories.

Waziri asserted that the film’s pre-screening state of rejection was caused by the defence of Queen “Cleopatra VII” history, which is a significant and authentic aspect of Egyptian ancient history and is free of any racial discrimination. He emphasised the importance of full respect for African civilizations and for our brothers on the African continent, which unites us all.

Meanwhile, Nasser Makkawi, Head of the Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Faculty of Archaeology, Cairo University, said that the appearance of Queen Cleopatra in this film in this body contradicts the simplest historical facts and the writings of historians such as Plutarch and Diocassius, who recorded the events of Roman history in Egypt during the reign of Queen Cleopatra, who confirmed that she was light-skinned and that she had Pure Macedonian ancestry.

He pointed out that Queen “Cleopatra VII” descends from an ancient Macedonian family that ruled Egypt for nearly 300 years, founded by King “Ptolemy I”, one of the Macedonian leaders in the army of “Alexander the Great”, to whom the state of Egypt devolved after the death of “Alexander” and the foundations of the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Ptolemy I married Queen Berenice I of Macedonian origin as well, and they gave birth to King Ptolemy II, after whom his sons and grandchildren continued to marry their female sisters according to the customs of this era, until Queen Cleopatra VII and her brother Ptolemy 14 maintained the purity of their Macedonian race during all this time period.

Egyptians are North Africans not sub-Saharans

Samia Al-Mirghani, former Director General of the Center for Research and Conservation of Antiquities at the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that biological anthropology studies and DNA studies that were conducted on ancient Egyptian mummies and human bones confirmed that the Egyptians did not bear the features of sub-Saharan Africans, whether in the shape of the skull, the width of the cheeks and nose, the widening and advancement of the upper jaw, or the shape of hair, proportions of body parts, height, distribution and density of body hair.

And what we see of a great diversity among the features of the Egyptians is due to the age of the ages of this land and the stability of its inhabitants and their melting of every stranger within their crucible.

She added that all the inscriptions and statues left for us by the ancient Egyptians on the temples and tombs portrayed the Egyptians with features as close as possible to the contemporary Egyptians in terms of eye, hair and skin color, the degree of smoothness and density of hair for men and women, and even the color of the skin and the presence of a proportion of coloured eyes, which are depicted in some statues of the Old Kingdom. Even when some mummification techniques changed in the 21st Dynasty and they began to paint the mummy’s skin to make it look as it was in her first life, they painted the man’s skin in brick color and painted the woman’s skin in light yellow, which confirms that what was drawn and confirmed on the walls is the truth that the ancient Egyptian recorded about himself.

Hellenistic features

Catharina Martinez, head of the Dominican mission and worker at the Taposiris Magna Temple in western Alexandria, said that despite the existence of conflicting opinions about her race, it is certain that she was born in Egypt in the year 69 BC of Macedonian origin, pointing out that with reference to the statues and coins left to us by the queen that  confirms beyond any doubt her Hellenistic features, which is evident in the bust made of marble preserved in the Berlin Museum from the first century BC, in which she appears wearing a royal wreath, almond eyes, a drawn nose and thin lips, in addition to another bust preserved in the Vatican that shows her With soft features, and a marble head in which she appears wearing a headdress, as well as a number of coins that show her in the same Hellenistic form.

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