Queen Cleopatra Director Pushes Back On ‘Blackwashing’ Claims

Tina Gharavi, director of the upcoming second season of Netflix‘s African Queens focusing on ancient Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, is pushing back on the claims that her season is engaging in “blackwashing.”

In an opinion piece published by Variety, Gharavi wrote about how she took it upon herself to cast a Black actor as Cleopatra because the time had come to portray such a monumental historical figure in a new and different light. “Doing the research, I realized what a political act it would be to see Cleopatra portrayed by a Black actress,” Gharavi wrote. “For me, the idea that people had gotten it so incredibly wrong before…meant we had to get it even more right.”


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Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra

Gharavi made several references to Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra in 1963, arguing that the casting of a white actor in the role should have produced a similar amount of fury, given its all but certain historical inaccuracy. “We need to have a conversation with ourselves about our colorism… and the internalized white supremacy that Hollywood has indoctrinated us with.” She also referenced the recent controversial casting of Gal Gadot as Cleopatra in an upcoming film.

Netflix caused an uproar among fans in April when it announced that Black actor Adele James, best known for her role in the British drama series Casualty, would be playing the ancient Egyptian ruler in the upcoming season, which will consist of four parts. Jada Pinkett Smith, who both produces and narrates the series, has defended the casting, arguing that it was done in part in a “nod” to the long-running conversation regarding Cleopatra’s racial ambiguity.

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Gharavi Criticizes Responses From Egypt

Gharavi, who is Persian, added that part of the reason why she believed there was such backlash to the casting was because many Egyptians objected to the idea of Cleopatra as Black, and therefore themselves as “Africans.” Gharavi wrote that she was “okay” with this criticism. Indeed, the controversy ran so deep in Egypt that an Egyptian lawyer even sued Netflix for not casting a lighter-skinned actor for the role, and demanded that the streaming platform be banned in the country.

As Gharavi points out, Cleopatra had a very mixed and somewhat ambiguous background — partly Macedonian Greek and Egyptian on her father’s side, though her mother’s identity is largely unknown — meaning it is unlikely that she was either fully Black or white. In any case, her heritage and appearance has long been debated, and it is unlikely the debate will ever be fully settled.

Season 2 of African Queens will premiere on Netflix on May 11.

Source: Variety

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