Was Cleopatra Black or White and why it matters
By Ray Hanania
It was bad enough when White racists would lie about the physical attributes of African Americans to justify maintaining the dual system of segregation.
Just as bad is the reverse racism that grew from the suffering many African Americans faced as a consequence of racism, even as the civil rights movement tried to right the nation’s human relations keel.
Yet, despite years of challenging demonizing stereotypes, there are still people who exploit racism stirring the pot for personal gain and self-aggrandizement.
That is exactly what is happening at Netflix, the behemoth streaming entertainment network that not only is a source of entertainment but often a source of supposed education.
Netflix recently announced the return of a docu-drama series produced by Jada Pinkett-Smith, who is best known these days for here judgmental silence last year at the Oscars when her uncontrollable husband, Will Smith, rushed to the stage and punched comedian and emcee Chris Rock in the face on national TV. I guess anyone with fame and money can be a Muhammad Ali, or a historian on ancient truths.
Pinkett-Smith returns to a second season on her series African Queens and this season will feature the life of Cleopatra, the Egyptian Queen reigned over Egypt for 20 years. The Hollywood role of Cleopatra was best performed in the 1963 Twentieth Century Fox movie blockbuster “Cleopatra.”
But Pinkett-Smith, reflecting the growing atmosphere of racial confrontation in America, cast her Cleopatra character as being Black, rather than as European White.
There is only one real authority on Cleopatra and Egyptian history and that is the famed Egyptologist and scholar Zahi Hawass, whom Pinkett-Smith apparently did not consult. Hawass recently wrote in in Arab News newspaper on April 20 Cleopatra was White European. Most offensive, Hawass writes, is the Netflix Docudrama asserts to be an “accurate account” of the life of the ruler of the Ptolemic Kingdom of Egypt, when it is not.
Ignorant of historical fact, Pinkett Smith, who has no training in ancient history, falsely claims Cleopatra’s race is “highly debated.”
I think this was done more to slap White American’s in the face than it was to correct an alleged historical error on race.
Hawass writes with academic precession for Arab News, “Cleopatra was not black. As well documented history attests, she was the descendant of a Macedonian Greek general who was a contemporary of Alexander the Great. Her first language was Greek and in contemporary busts and portraits she is depicted clearly as being white.”
Rather than hold herself accountable for this historical error, Pinkett-Smith, like her husband, slaps the public in the face. The actress chosen to represent Cleopatra, Adele James, said, “If you don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show.”
“If you don’t like the casting, don’t watch the show” – Cleopatra star responds to race controversy
Wow! It sure sounds like the same kind of racist rebuke that civil rights activists faced when they fought to assert African American rights and accuracy during the American civil rights movement.
Netflix is an “entertainment” platform where the world streams entertainment, fiction and non-fiction historical truths and untruths. But there should be some limits on what wealthy people like Pinkett-Smith can do and say on their platform. To claim the casting is “accurate” is a brazen insult to the intelligence of the public and especially to the Arab World.
Netflix is allowing Pinkett-Smith to rewrite history and truth in order to satisfy the racially driven Woke Movement in which fiction is more important than truth or accuracy.
There are so many other real African Queens Pinkett-Smith could portray. Pinkett-Smith is basically saying Cleopatra’s “real Black race” was historically marginalized in an act of anti-Black racism. That is as offensive as when her husband, Will Smith, trivialized the great performance talents of the hundreds of Hollywood Oscar nominees when he walked up to the microphone and violently attacked Chris Rock, all for personal gain and selfish want.
The Cleopatra controversy doesn’t help empower Netflix as a platform for reliable entertainment or documentaries. All it does is weaken advances many in the Civil Rights movement achieved by bringing understanding and truth to the shattered relations between Blacks and Whites in America.
Maybe Netflix might consider doing a docu-drama on the American civil rights movement, and cast Brad Pitt, who is White, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was Black.
That is exactly what Netflix is doing by allowing Pinkett-Smith to cast Cleopatra with a Black actress who ignorantly asserts history is uncertain on Cleopatra’s race. History is absolutely clear on that point.
To be ignorant on a Hollywood movie screen is no different than being ignorant in life.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. A political analyst and CEO of Urban Strategies Group, Hanania’s opinion columns on mainstream issues are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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