Netflix has faced criticism for intentionally falsifying the truth by presenting false or misleading information in its content, which can erode trust in the platform and damage its credibility as a source of entertainment and information.
Egypt has alleged that Netflix distorts history by selecting a black woman to portray Cleopatra, one of its most prominent historical figures, in a new series. Social media users also helped circulate misinformation regarding the controversial series.
Netflix’s 2023 Series "Queen Cleopatra"
According to Netflix Tudum, the official companion site to Netflix, the new eight-episode docudrama series "Queen Cleopatra," executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, offers viewers the chance to discover the incredible and inspiring lives of queens who may have been overlooked in Western academic studies.
The series is coming on May 10 of this year. The series' official trailer was released two weeks ago.
The spotlight is on Queen Cleopatra, one of history's most renowned, influential, and often misunderstood women. Despite the many speculations and tales surrounding Cleopatra's life, the documentary aims to reevaluate her story in a fresh, unique way, including her romantic relationships, while emphasizing her intelligence as one of her greatest strengths.
Netflix Faces Backlash for Casting a Black Actress as Queen Cleopatra
Adele James, an actor of mixed heritage, has been cast to play the lead role of Queen Cleopatra in Netflix's upcoming series. According to the streaming giant, the decision to cast Queen Cleopatra as a black woman is “a nod to the centuries-long conversation about the ruler’s race.”
“During the time of her reign, Egypt’s population was multicultural and multiracial. Cleopatra’s race was unlikely to be documented, and the identities of her mother and paternal grandparents weren’t known. Some speculate she was a native Egyptian woman, while others say she was Greek,” Netflix Tudum elaborated.
In a recent article in Variety, Tina Gharani, the director of the Netflix show, pointed out that although Cleopatra was descended from Macedonian royalty, she was eight generations away from her Ptolemaic ancestors, making it less likely that she had fair skin. Gharani believes that casting a black actor in the role was a deliberate political choice, and she has received criticism and hate online as a result.
The actress playing Cleopatra, Adele James, responded to the backlash on Twitter, telling critics that they should simply not watch the show if they do not like the casting.
On Thursday, Cairo officials rejected the content of the show, considering it to be a clear distortion of history. The statement by the Egyptian government signals an escalation in a dispute that has led to calls for the series to be canceled, amid a wider discussion about representation in mainstream media.
The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Egypt asserted that the documentary-style format of the show demands its producers to ensure its accuracy by relying on historical and scientific evidence.
Furthermore, a petition on change.org that demanded the show's cancellation had gathered over 90,000 signatures before it was taken offline without warning.
Bassem Youssef, a famous Egyptian presenter, responded to Netflix's casting of black actress Adele James as Cleopatra in a live interview with Piers Morgan. Youssef passionately criticized the casting, saying: "Hollywood has been erasing my people."
Expert Answer: Was Queen Cleopatra a Black Woman?
The depiction of historical figures on screen has sparked heated discussions around the world, particularly in countries like Egypt, where the ancient past is an integral part of their national identity and tourism industry.
The Egyptian government argued that coins and statues from Cleopatra's time portray her as a light-skinned woman, consistent with her Macedonian Greek roots.
Dr. Mostafa Waziri, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, claimed that the portrayal of Cleopatra in the series was a “falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical fallacy.” He emphasized that his criticism was not based on ethnic prejudice but on a deep respect for African civilizations and unity among all African countries.
Dr. Samia Al-Mirghani, a former director of the Center for Research and Conservation of Antiquities, argued that Egyptians in ancient times did not have sub-Saharan African features, based on anthropological studies and DNA tests. Inscriptions on ancient tombs and statues, she added, portrayed the ancient Egyptians with features similar to those of contemporary Egyptians. However, she acknowledged that there was "great diversity" among Egyptians due to the flexible and international nature of the kingdom.
Zahi Hawass, one of Egypt's most famous archaeologists and former antiquities minister, emphasized that Cleopatra was not black, pointing out that the statutes and forms of her father and brother did not support the claim. He also noted that while Egypt ruled over the Kingdom of Kush, which had a distinct black African culture, "they have no connection with the Pharaonic civilization."
Did the Arab Republic of Egypt Sue Netflix?
According to social media users, Netflix has been sued by the Arabic Republic of Egypt for trying to erase the cultural identity of Cleopatra, leading to a lawsuit.
Misbar investigated the claim and found it to be fake. The business has been sued by an Egyptian lawyer, Mahmoud al-Semary, not by the Republic of Egypt.
According to the Egypt Independent, Mahmoud al-Semary has initiated legal proceedings against Netflix, calling for the platform to be shut down after the trailer for the upcoming movie "Queen Cleopatra" was released.
The lawyer argues that the portrayal is both historically inaccurate and offensive to the Egyptian people. Mahmoud al-Semary has called for all legal measures to be taken against those responsible for the documentary and the management of the streaming platform for their involvement in "this crime."
Did Netflix Reclassify "Queen Cleopatra" from Documentary to Science Fiction?
Other social media users claimed that Netflix has changed the rating of Cleopatra from documentary to science fiction on its platform.
The users accompanied their tweets with screenshots that seem to be from IMDB, showing that the series classification is fiction.
Misbar investigated the circulating photos and found them to be fake.
Searching on Netflix’s official page of the miniseries, Misbar’s team found the genres of the show to be the same as they were: TV Dramas, Historical Documentaries, and Docuseries.
Misbar’s team also searched on the IMDB website and found that the miniseries is still classified as a documentary and docudrama series.