Actress Gal Gadot has been under fire after the Israeli actress announced on Twitter that she will play the role of Cleopatra in an upcoming Paramount Pictures project, teaming up with Greek-American screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis.
As you might have heard I teamed up with @PattyJenks and @LKalogridis to bring the story of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, to the big screen in a way she’s never been seen before. To tell her story for the first time through women's eyes, both behind and in front of the camera. pic.twitter.com/k5eyTIfzjB
— Gal Gadot (@GalGadot) October 12, 2020
The casting decision has some social media users riled up, with journalist Sameera Khan calling Gal Gadot a ‘bland’ Israeli and others stating that she is ‘not Black enough’ to play Cleopatra’.
Supporters have scrambled to defend her amidst accusations by online trolls that casting Gadot as Cleopatra was another example of ‘hollywood whitewashing’ – the term used to refer to the growing debate about the occurrence of white actors portraying non-white roles.
Cleopatra has historically been played by many white women, including Elizabeth Taylor in 1963.
Some have claimed that Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o would be a better fit for the role whilst expert on Africa, writer and broadcaster James Hall tweeted that: “Hollywood has always cast white American actresses as the Queen of the Nile. For once, can’t they find an African actress?”
Meanwhile defenders have labelled such criticisers as ‘uneducated’ for believing that the Egyptian ruler was from an African or Arab descent when she was in fact Macedonian Greek.
Journalist Ian Miles Cheong wrote, “People are upset because Gal Gadot, who isn’t Black, is playing Cleopatra, who wasn’t Black either.”
Cleopatra was ethnically Macedonian Greek. She wasn't a subsaharan african.
— Matthew Schroeder (@MatthewOfWiki) October 11, 2020
Egyptians aren't black and Cleopatra wasn't even Egyptian anyways, she was Greek
— (((Nathalie Hawthorne))) (@NathalieWriter) October 11, 2020
It’s the level of ignorance that is unbelievable. Cleopatra was not an Arab, this is very basic historical knowledge, she was a Ptolemy and Greek. If you don’t know anything about it, you should start by learning
— Robert Chapman (@roberthchapman) October 12, 2020
Another Twitter user begs the question: “So… there were no Egyptian women to play, um, an Egyptian queen?”
At the Oxford University Press blog, Cleopatra biographer Duane W. Roller has noted that, “the best evidence shows that Cleopatra was three-quarters Macedonian Greek and one-quarter Egyptian. There is no room for anything else, certainly not for any black African blood.”
Nevertheless Roller continues on to sum up argumentation about Cleopatra’s race as being “rather silly”, saying that “Cleopatra VII, the last queen of Egypt and a woman of great ability, is often a victim of racial profiling, as today people can be more interested in her racial background than her many accomplishments.”
According to Roller; “What is important about Cleopatra is that she became one of the most powerful rulers of her era. She was a skilled linguist, a naval commander, an expert administrator, a religious leader who was seen by some as a messianic figure, and a worthy opponent of the Romans.”
“She was worshipped in Egypt for over 400 years after her death. Race seems irrelevant in such a situation, and it goes without saying that people should be judged by their abilities, not their race,” writes Roller.
“But sadly, even in twenty-first century America, this is far from the case. It is unlikely that Cleopatra cared about her racial makeup, but people over 2000 years later still obsess about it, thus trivializing her accomplishments.”
This is not the first time that Gal Gadot has been entrusted to portray a Greek woman, or teamed up with director Patty Jenkins, following her successful casting in 2017 as the Amazonian Wonder Woman, whose roots come from Greek mythology.
Neither is it the first time that Gadot has been at the centre of controversy this year after her celebrity-filled cover of John Lennon’s imagine went viral after being ridiculed and labelled as ‘cringe-worthy.’
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