Netflix’s latest docudrama series, Queen Cleopatra, has sparked a heated debate due to the casting of a black woman, Adele James, in the titular role.
Produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, the series is the second installment in the African Queens franchise, which aims to spotlight female kings and queens from Africa. However, the casting decision’s controversy has overshadowed the show’s release, with many viewers and critics panning the series for being “bland” and lacking lackluster performances.
The show, which premiered on May 10, depicts the life of Cleopatra VII, the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. She ruled during a turbulent time when Egypt was on the brink of being swallowed up by the expanding Roman Empire.
Cleopatra’s empire included parts of modern-day Lebanon, Cyprus, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries, and her death marked the end of Egypt as a thriving civilization. Despite her historical significance, the show’s casting decision has overshadowed the portrayal of the mighty queen.
The controversy surrounding the series has come from Egyptian critics, who argue that Cleopatra had light skin and Greek features, not African and dark skin.
The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has released a statement criticizing Netflix for the inaccurate portrayal of Cleopatra and insisting that the show should be based on historical and scientific facts so civilizations are not falsified. An Egyptian lawyer has also filed a complaint against the series, stating that their objection is to falsifying historical facts, not the skin tone of the actor portraying Cleopatra.
However, despite the controversy surrounding the show’s casting, the series has failed to impress audiences and critics alike. The show has a 13% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 1% audience score, with many viewers and critics panning the series for being “bland” and having lackluster performances.
This starkly contrasts the first installment in the franchise, African Queens: Njinga, which earned an 88% critic score from Rotten Tomatoes and a 22% audience score.
It remains to be seen whether there will be a third season of the show and how it will fare compared to its predecessors. While Queen Cleopatra may have been a miss for Netflix, the streaming giant has plenty of exciting projects for subscribers to enjoy.