Netflix queen cleopatra documentary and controversy.

Netflix "Queen Cleopatra" Controversy

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Updated Apr 24, 2023 at 01:27PM EDT by Zach.

Added Apr 22, 2023 at 01:56PM EDT by Brandon.

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Netflix Queen Cleopatra Controversy relates to the viral debate, controversy and lawsuit surrounding the 2023 Netflix documentary series Queen Cleopatra (starring actress Adele James) and the decision to portray her as Black vs. Greek. The wording used in the trailer, combined with previous Netflix adaptations having different races or genders portraying famous historical and iconic fictional characters, created a significant controversy over the decision and eventually led to a lawsuit against the company stemming from the country of Egypt.


On April 12th, 2023, the official Netflix YouTube[1] account uploaded the trailer for the upcoming documentary series, titled Queen Cleopatra and executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, with a description noting that "Cleopatra's heritage has been the subject of academic debate, which has often been ignored by Hollywood" as the justification for the change in race (shown below).

For many years prior to the Netflix documentary, the ethnicity and race of Cleopatra VII has been debated among historians and the wider public, with many claiming she was of Greek and Macedonian[5] descent, others that she was Egyptian[6] and some that she was African.[7]

Online Reactions

Following its release on April 12th, 2023, the trailer immediately made waves online as people began to discuss and debate prominent aspects of it, particularly certain quotes.

One of the most prevalent was the phrase that's said during the trailer, "I don't care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was Black," which some online related to Black Egyptian movements and memes such as We Wuz Kings, among other contentious topics. In one reaction video discussing the trailer, YouTuber Amala Ekpunobi responded to the claim that "Cleopatra was Black" and refuted this, saying she was Greek. The video (seen below) received over 181,000 likes and 2.5 million views in one week.

Another prominent factor of the trailer that generated debates was paralleling the documentary, which claims that it's a historical fact that Cleopatra was Black, as it compares with other viral controversies such as The Little Mermaid remake, which is a fictional character being cast as Black. This argument is seen in the tweet by Twitter user @lanicolecky[2] on April 15th, 2023, going over the direct difference between the two controversies (shown below).

Nicky @lanicolecky American did it again. I wouldn't argue for Ariel because at the end of the day, it's a fiction with children as the market. But Cleopatra actually is an actual figure. Why would you blantanly steal that. mars @uregyptianmommy · Apr 13 why netflix's new cleopatra documentary is problematic - a thread made by an egyptian. Show this thread NETFLIX OFFICIAL TRAILER Queen Cleopatra | Official Trailer | Netflix Netflix 497K views 21 hours ago 2:04 :

The conversation on Cleopatra's ancestry and race continued to spread online in April 2023 as the documentary received further media coverage and viral debates, with several TikToks being made by people attempting to explain why Cleopatra was a Macedonian Greek who shouldn't be depicted as Black. On April 16th, 2023, TikToker @artlust[3] uploaded a TikTok going through the history of Cleopatra's origins back to Alexander the Great, earning over 31,000 likes in one week (shown below).

@artlust Was Cleopatra Black? #historyontiktok #arthistory101 #egyptianart ♬ original sound – Seema R


Egypt Lawsuit

On April 18th, 2023, Egyptian lawyer Mahmoud officially filed a lawsuit against Netflix to try and get the documentary (and the platform itself) removed from Egypt, citing that Cleopatra is inaccurately depicted as Black in Queen Cleopatra, as well as Netflix's library not conforming to Islamic values as a whole.[8]

Word of the lawsuit quickly spread online as the controversy continued garnering attention, with people discussing it and the possible ramifications, as well as some poking fun at Netflix for being criticized for its stereotypical adaptation changes. For example, on April 20th, 2023, TikToker dennis.fang[4] uploaded a TikTok explaining the lawsuit and showing examples of other higher-up Egyptian historians' views of the documentary, earning over 36,000 likes in two days (shown below).

@dennis.fang The Netflix “Queen Cleopatra” documentary is being sued by an egyptian lawyer, here’s what you need to know. #Cleopatra #QueenCleopatra #Netflix #Egypt #AncientEgypt #History ♬ original sound – Dennis

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