No longer content with overwriting the source material of various comic books, video games, novels, and anime Netflix has now turned its identity politics attentions towards real world history, as the streaming service has announced that their upcoming docuseries Queen Cleopatra will not only race-swap the eponymous ruler, but also argue that her having black skin is historically accurate.
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Starring Adele James (BBC’s Casualty) as the Queen of the Nile herself, the four-episode long second entry in executive producer Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Netflix documentary series African Queen (the first of which focused on Queen Nzgina’s reign over the area now known as Angola) will focus on “Queen Cleopatra, the world’s most famous, powerful, and misunderstood woman — a daring queen whose beauty and romances came to overshadow her real asset: her intellect.”
“Cleopatra’s heritage has been the subject of much academic debate, which has often been ignored by Hollywood,” continues the streamer’s official synopsis. “Now our series re-assesses this fascinating part of her story.”
“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!” said Pinkett-Smith in a statement provided to the media.
“Cleopatra is a queen who many know about, but not in her truth,” she added. “She’s been displayed as overtly sexual, excessive, and corrupt, yet she was a strategist, an intellect, a commanding force of nature, who fought to protect her kingdom…and her heritage is highly debated. This season will dive deeper into her history and re-assesses this fascinating part of her story.”
Per the series’ above trailer, it seems this ‘re-assessment’ – read: re-write – of history will be based less on objective, factual historical records and more on the personal intuitions and feelings of its supposed subject matter experts.
“It’s possible that she was an Egyptian,” says one woman, summarizing the crux of the documentary’s argument.
She is then followed by a man from the North African region (as his identity is not specified in the docuseries’ promotional material, it is currently unknown exactly which country he hails from) who professes, “I imagine her to have curly hair like me and similar skin color.”
Finally, the trailer rounds out its teasing of its guests with the declaration from an older black woman that, “I remember my grandmother saying to me, ‘I don’t care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was black’.”
Notably, all the quotes highlighted by Netflix in service of promoting the idea that Cleopatra was black do not point to any specific archeological evidence, but are all rather based on appealing to the emotions of those obsessed with the misguided concept of ‘representation’.
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This is likely because in reality, all such evidence points to the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt having been not Egyptian or even African, but rather Macedonian Greek.
Further, not only does Cleopatra directly descend from the very founder of the Ptoelmaic Dynasty, the Macdeonian Greek Ptolemy I Soter, but she also spoke Koine Greek as her native language.
And while very few accurate depictions of Cleopatra have survived the test of time, a posthumous portrait of the Queen found in the ruins of the ancient Roman city Herculaneum depicts her with fair skin and red hair.
“Over the brow a large tuft of hair is painted, rather like the nodus found on portraits of women of the later 1st century BC, and perhaps originally on the marble portraits of Cleopatra from Berlin…and the Vatican…” Susan Walker and Peter Higgs argued in favor of the portrait’s accuracy in their book Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth.
“The large eye (a late Ptolemaic feature), long nose, and full lips are also comparable to the features of Cleopatra as seen on her marble portraits and some of her coins,” they asserted. “The effect is somewhat more idealized than, for instance, the Antioch coin portraits, but there are similarities.”
Queen Cleopatra is set to further muddy the conversation around the historical figure when it hits Netflix on May 10th.
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