Egypt’s antiquities ministry insisted on Thursday that Cleopatra had “white skin and Hellenistic characteristics” in an ongoing row over a Netflix drama-documentary depicting the famed beauty of antiquity as black.
“Queen Cleopatra”, produced by Jada Pinkett Smith and starring Adele James, is due for release on the streaming platform on May 10.
“As Egypt’s last pharaoh, Cleopatra fights to protect her throne, family and legacy in this docudrama featuring reenactments and expert interviews,” the Netflix site says in promoting its upcoming production.
But even before its release, “Queen Cleopatra” has already caused a storm of controversy in the North African nation.
An online petition accusing the production of rewriting history has already garnered more than 40,000 signatures.
And in a country where calls for Netflix to be banned for content deemed offensive to Egypt or “its family values”, MP Saboura al-Sayyed has again urged parliament to ban the platform.
On Thursday, the antiquities ministry weighed into the dispute, publishing a lengthy statement that included statements from experts it said all agree: Cleopatra had “white skin and Hellenistic characteristics”.
“Bas reliefs and statues of Queen Cleopatra are the best proof,” the statement said, embellishing its text with illustrations showing Cleopatra with European traits.
For Mostafa Waziri, head of the Supreme Antiquities Council, depicting the famous queen as black is nothing less than “a falsification of Egyptian history”.
He insists there is nothing racist in this view, which is motivated by “defending the history of Queen Cleopatra, an important part of the history of Egypt in antiquity”.
Commentators in Egypt often decry campaigns among mostly African-American groups claiming the origins of Egyptian civilisation.
Cleopatra belonged to the Macedonian Lagides dynasty descended from Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, who founded the Ptolemaic dynasty on the banks of the Nile.
While legend hails the queen born in around 69 BC as a great beauty, her appearance and the colour of her skin are largely open to interpretation.
A BBC documentary in 2009 claimed that Cleopatra had African blood, an assertion that passed without incident.