by Nadia Johnson
The most recent Netflix documentary, Cleopatra, has drawn great controversy over having a mixed-race woman play Cleopatra. However, this is not the first time that TV series and cable documentaries have suggested that Cleopatra was of mixed racial background. In 1999 ABC aired a tv movie called Cleopatra, which starred Leonor Varela, a Chilean actress, play the title role. Another in 20009 was Cleopatra: A portrait of a Killer, a documentary that also suggested she was of mixed racial backgrounds.
So why all the fuss and why all the anger? Why all the racist comments being sent to Netflix, Jada Pinkett Smith, and the cast? In my opinion old stereotypes die hard. I remember there has been a long portrayal of Egypt being settled by earlier whites and then they were forced out by the black in the ancient countries of either Punt or Nubia. Though later historians would prove that this is not true, they would prove that the ancient Egyptian, were black. However, there are some to this day who still question the racial makeup of the ancient Egyptians despite proof that they were black, which can be seen in their art and Egypt’s original name Kemet. The literal translation of Kemet means the land of the black land, of the blacks, or the black land
All my life, I have heard and, in some cases, read that Queen Cleopatra was black. It was believed that either on her mother’s side of the family, (some historians think that her mother was either Egyptian and Nubian mixed) or maybe it was her grandfather or grandmother who was mixed. There has even been some suggestion that her father might have been mixed as well with Persian and Egyptian. Either way this all boiled down to Cleopatra not being 100 % white.
So why is this important? I will tell you why. For one it tears down the illusion that Cleopatra was white and that because of her race she was able to nearly bring Rome down. The second reason is that it takes away the idea that black people were only slaves who for the most part came from Sub-Saharan Africa and there was no such thing as black Northern African in Norther Africa. This, of course, is a lie because of the histories of Punt and Nubia, which is modern day Sudan, where there are rich archeological sites that show a very rich ancient African culture. The third and last reason is because once they wrap their heads around that Cleopatra may have been black then they have to take away that she was more than just a sex symbol. More then a woman who used sex and not intellect to rule her kingdom. This evil portrayal of black women rulers just using sex to either control men or rule a country is evil. It minimalizes black female rule to just one thing sex and it fails to look at how these women were not only able to rule in a world, but also maintain power in a world where most women could not even own their property.
We know from historical accounts that Cleopatra was a smart woman. Plutarch said that her was very well educated. It is believed that she knew several languages, she was also a lover of arts and literature, a great diplomat and she had a very charming personality. All of these are winning qualities to have if one is going to be queen of Egypt. In Cleopatra being portrayed as being an intelligent woman it tears down the stereotype that she is just a pretty face and plants her as a knowledgeable and fierce ruler, who could and did play the game like a man.
In the end, I think that real reason we need to look at Cleopatra is not just her race, but what she was able to accomplish in the 22 years she ruled as Pharaoh and how close she come to changing the world and destroying Rome! That is her legacy and it is worth protecting. Now all we need to do is find her and some living descendants and we will have a powerful black royal family.