Netflix Docudrama ‘Queen Cleopatra’ Stirs Controversy After Casting Black Lead, Egyptian Lawyer Sues

Adele James
Dave Benett/Getty Images

Critics from around the world are furious about Netflix’s casting decision for the docudrama “African Queens: Queen Cleopatra,” with one Egyptian attorney going as far as filing a complaint against the media company for allegedly misrepresenting history.

Adele James, who is of mixed heritage, plays the Egyptian ruler in the upcoming series, but many people disagree with casting the British actress to depict the famous queen. The real Cleopatra was born in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in 69 BC, and most scholars agree that her primary ancestry was Greek Macedonian.

Netflix’s promotional website, Tudum, addressed the casting controversy in February. The site quoted the show’s executive producer, Jada Pinkett Smith, saying that because Cleopatra’s heritage has been debated, the casting was “a nod to the centuries-long conversation about the ruler’s race.”

“We don’t often get to see or hear stories about black queens, and that was really important for me, as well as for my daughter, and just for my community to be able to know those stories because there are tons of them,” Pinkett Smith said, per Variety

Zahi Hawass, a prominent Egyptologist and former antiquities minister, told the al-Masry al-Youm newspaper, “This is completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not black.”

“Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilization is black,” he said, per the BBC, while asking Egyptians to denounce the docudrama.

Lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary filed a complaint with the public prosecutor against Netflix, the outlet noted, saying “necessary legal measures” should be taken against Netflix services in Egypt.

He accused the streaming giant of attempting to “promote the Afrocentric thinking … which includes slogans and writings aimed at distorting and erasing the Egyptian identity.”


The petition “Cancel Netflix’s ‘Queen Cleopatra’” has more than 3,700 signatures on change.org, while a similar petition on the platform allegedly garnered 85,000 signatures before being removed, per The New York Post.

The official trailer has its YouTube comments turned off. It currently has over two million views after being released one week ago.

“Just FYI, this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated on my account. You will be blocked without hesitation!!!” James wrote, sharing screenshots of alleged messages she received from critics. 

“If you don’t like the casting don’t watch the show. Or do & engage in (expert) opinion different to yours. Either way, I’M GASSED and will continue to be!”

The docuseries debuts on Netflix May 10.

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