The decision to cast Israeli actress Gal Gadot as Cleopatra, in an upcoming movie, has ruffled the usual feathers. You see, the real Cleopatra was “African,” and Gal Gadot is not African, so this decision is “racist.”
The BBC moans:
Plans for a new movie about Cleopatra have sparked a controversy before filming has even started.
The role of the famed ancient Egyptian ruler is to be played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, best known for her Hollywood depictions of Wonder Woman.
The announcement has led to a row on social media with some alleging “cultural whitewashing”, where white actors portray people of colour.
Some have said the role should instead go to an Arab or African actress.
The Guardian shrieks:
But even with a female director, and female screenwriter in Laeta Kalogridis on board, the casting of an Israeli actor with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage as the legendary Queen of Egypt has led to a not unfounded debate about Hollywood whitewashing.
Fans’ reactions were mostly sceptical, with many accusing Hollywood of whitewashing and wondering whether Cleopatra should be played by an actress of colour…
Lexi Alexander, a Palestinian-German director, said the role should go to a Black actress.
“I believe we should cast someone like the 3D image they created based on the the coin they found with Cleopatra on it … which means the part should go to a Black actress,” she said on Twitter.
It’s true that Hollywood was guilty of shameless whitewashing in the past. I remember, as a kid, watching The Ten Commandments and wondering why everyone was so white, considering that the story took place in Egypt. Couldn’t they have found Mexicans to play some of the parts? Doing so would have resulted in a more accurate depiction of those ancient people, and it might have saved them money. All they had to do was show up at a spot with a lot of illegal immigrants, load a few dozen of them into vans, give them ancient Egyptian-looking cloths and teach them how to walk like Egyptians. At the end of the day, pay them each $5 and send them on their way.
But no. Instead, they insisted on portraying ancient Egyptians as if they were Europeans…
… and Cleopatra was, in fact, European. If her mother was Egyptian, she would probably still have looked Mediterranean. She was certainly not a Negress.
Here’s an answer from Quora (What do you think about Gal Gadot being tapped to play Cleopatra, and why is everyone so divided?):
It’s 100% appropriate and the people flipping out over it are wrong.
Okay. So. First things first, Gal Gadot means controversy because she’s Israeli. Some people were flipping out over the Wonder Woman casting because of that. Wonder Woman was banned in some countries for having an Israeli star. I’m serious.
Now, putting anti-Semitism aside for five seconds… here are a couple of modern attempts to realistically reconstruct Cleopatra’s appearance.
Honestly, in that reconstruction, Cleopatra… looks more stereotypically Jewish than Gal Gadot.
Cleopatra ruled Egypt. Egypt is on the African continent. There are a certain segment of people who think, on an ideological basis, that choosing a white actor to play a non-white character is gänzlich verboten. This is “white-washing” or “blackface,” depending on the details of the portrayal.
Hollywood has done this a lot in the past, so it’s not a crazy complaint in and of itself. One recent notable example was turning the Tibetan Ancient in Dr. Strange into a white woman. (This was probably mostly done to appease Chinese political sensibilities.)
Now, there are also a certain segment of people who believe that Egyptians were “black.” As in ethnically and racially similar to sub-Saharan Africans. This is fairly clearly wrong, as can be seen by study of genetics, linguistics,or just by looking at the historical record showing lots of interaction between Egyptians and their Mediterranean neighbors.
They do have a more distant relationship with eastern Africans in the Horn, but culturally, linguistically, and genetically, west and central Africa aren’t any measurably closer than, say, India. Which is to say not very close.
Linguistics and genetics both show the ancient Egyptians to be most closely tied to Semitic people, i.e., Jews and Arabs. Gal Gadot, being Israeli, has Semitic cultural heritage and ancestry. although there are some people among both of the above segments who think Ashkenazi Jews are “fake” Semites.
These two segments overlap.
Now, here’s a twist. Cleopatra was from a Greek dynasty of Egyptian rulers. She may have had some Egyptian ancestors, but everything I said about ancient Egyptians being more closely tied to other Mediterraneans than sub-Saharan Africa goes double for Cleopatra, because she was a Greek Egyptian. Greeks ruled Egypt at that time!
That also means that Gal Gadot is possibly not as European as Cleopatra was.
The consensus is that Gal Gadot is more beautiful than the real Cleopatra would have been. Personally, I disagree; based on the reconstruction in the above Quora answer, Cleopatra was more beautiful. This is a fact, because I am an authority.
Gal Gadot is pretty, but not stunning. Nevertheless, her life matters.
Due to the violent nature of so many Africans, and the artificially fomented controversy surrounding Gadot’s upcoming role, she is in danger. I do hope she has adequate security.