Back in 1963, Elizabeth Taylor, then the hottest actress in the world, starred as Cleopatra in an over-the-top, star-studded blockbuster with a $31 million budget — equal to $327 million in today’s dollars.
Taylor likely didn’t look much like the Egyptian queen, what with her lily-white skin and dark blue eyes with purple irises. But back then, everything wasn’t so politically correct and people didn’t take offense at meaningless things.
Skip ahead 60 years. Netflix’s new documentary “Queen Cleopatra” has drawn controversy and “blackwashing” claims after Adele James, a black actress, was cast in the lead role. And yes, in fact, historical records show Cleopatra she wasn’t black, but Macedonian-Greek.
The documentary, part of the African Queens series, explores the rise and fall of the last pharaoh of Egypt and was released on May 10. But it’s the dismal ratings that are making headlines.
The documentary currently has a 2% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which Forbes says is the lowest in history.
The “average Tomatometer,” which calculates how many critics rate it favorably, stands at 10%.
Here’s how bad that is: The worst film on the movie rating site, Ballistic: Ecks Vs Sever,” in 2002 has a 0% rating on the Tomatometer, but a 20% favorable rating by the audience. Another stinker, “One Missed Call” from 2008, also has a 0% Tomatometer but a 20% audience score. And the Nicholas Cage bomb, “Left Behind,” from 2014 got 0% from the critics but 22% from the audience.
Forbe’s notes that the creator of the series, Tina Gharvi, has defended the casting choice:
“Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister? And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white? Her proximity to whiteness seems to give her value, and for some Egyptians it seems to really matter. After much hand-wringing and countless auditions, we found in Adele James an actor who could convey not only Cleopatra’s beauty, but also her strength. What the historians can confirm is that it is more likely that Cleopatra looked like Adele than Elizabeth Taylor ever did.”
But hundreds of audience reviews say different.
“I’m a huge history buff and I love documentaries depicting the past lives of historical figures. That being said, I have no idea what this is. It’s not a documentary depicting the life of Cleopatra. It’s a race baiting Netflix show that tells its audience that if you can’t get on board with this retelling of how we see the history of Queen Cleopatra, then you’re racist. End of story,” one amateur reviewer wrote.
“A ‘documentary’ that has about as much historical accuracy as John Wayne playing Genghis Khan back in 1956. Cleopatra was a Macedonian Greek. If you want her to be Black, fine create a historic fiction series. Queen Hatshepsut or Queen Nefertiti would have been a much better person to cover if you wanted to take the Black female empowerment narrative,” another wrote.
Yet another attempt to go woke, but ending up going broke.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent for a national newspaper. He was also the a.m. editor of the Drudge Report for four years. Send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.