The director of the upcoming documentary series “Queen Cleopatra” brushed off criticisms of “blackwashing” over her choice to cast a Black actress as the famous Egyptian queen.
Tina Gharavi penned a Saturday column for Variety where she admitted that having Adele James play Cleopatra is a “political act” to right the wrongs of White actress Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal of the last Egyptian queen in a 1963 film.
“Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister? And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white? Her proximity to whiteness seems to give her value, and for some Egyptians it seems to really matter,” Ms. Gharavi wrote.
Egyptian lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary filed a lawsuit against Netflix last week that claimed the latest installment of Jada Pinkett Smith’s “African Queens” project was “erasing the Egyptian identity,” according to the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Leading Egyptologist Zahi Hawass told Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm separately that “Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not black.”
Ms. Gharavi shot back at the people speaking up about her decision to cast Ms. James in the leading role, yet they were silent when HBO’s series “Rome” depicted her as a “sleazy, dissipated drug addict.”
“Perhaps, it’s not just that I’ve directed a series that portrays Cleopatra as Black, but that I have asked Egyptians to see themselves as Africans, and they are furious at me for that. I am okay with this,” the director wrote in Variety.
Ms. Gharavi ends the column by saying that it’s still not known what Cleopatra’s skin color was, but that “we need to have a conversation with ourselves about our colorism, and the internalized white supremacy that Hollywood has indoctrinated us with.”
“It’s almost as if we don’t realize that misogynoir still has an effect on us today,” Ms. Gharavi wrote. “We need to liberate our imaginations, and boldly create a world in which we can explore our historical figures without fearing the complexity that comes with their depiction. I am proud to stand with ‘Queen Cleopatra’ — a re-imagined Cleopatra — and with the team that made this.”