Egyptian sues Netflix over ‘Black Cleopatra’ documentary

By Laureen Fagan - 18 April 2023 at 7:30 pm
Egyptian sues Netflix over ‘Black Cleopatra’ documentary

An Egyptian lawyer filed a court case against Netflix on Tuesday, calling on the public prosecutor to shut down the entertainment platform because of plans to air “Queen Cleopatra” with a Black actor in the title role.

Mahmoud al-Semary claims that the documentary series, spearheaded by executive producer Jada Pinkett Smith and set to begin May 10 with Adele James portraying Cleopatra, is an affront to Egyptian identity and culture and contradicts the facts of history.

“Most of what Netflix platform displays do not conform to Islamic and societal values and principles, especially Egyptian ones,” the complaint added, as reported by Egypt Independent.

Scholars have established that Cleopatra reigned from 51 to 30 BCE during the Ptolemy era and descended from Macedonian Greeks. But questions about her lineage leave open the possibility of mixed racial heritage, meaning it’s possible she was African too.

The questions over Cleopatra’s racial makeup aren’t new, some of them dating back to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. They arise each time that actors from Elizabeth Taylor to Gal Gadot, and now James, have portrayed the queen or announced their plans to do so.

James has thanked supporters and rebuffed her critics on Twitter. “If you don’t like the casting don’t watch the show,” she said last week. The Netflix trailer was released on Thursday.

Modern researchers with access to DNA samples have suggested that modern Egyptians have more in common with sub-Saharan Africans than Cleopatra and others living in antiquity. However, some scholars are quick to note that racial identities mean something different today than they did in Cleopatra’s time.

That said, Egypt’s former minister of antiquities has spoken out against the Netflix series, too.

“Netflix is trying to stir up confusion to spread false information that the origin of Egyptian civilization is black,” said  Zahi Hawass.

Image: Netflix

Laureen Fagan

Laureen Fagan

Laureen is the editor of Africa Times

Laureen is a freelance journalist creating high-quality, informed content on international affairs, politics and technology. She has worked both in and out of newsrooms since 2000. She is a former paramedic with significant experience in community resilience and nonprofit community development initiatives, and maintains "a passion for action" on sustainability and climate change. She also is trained in conflict resolution and diversity, and has special interests in science and medical reporting, and culture and religion issues. Laureen received her MSJ from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in the United States, and completed additional graduate study in theology at University of Notre Dame. Follow Laureen on Mastodon at

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