Netflixs Queen Cleopatra EP Says Controversial Casting Choice Reflects The Multicultural Nature Of Ancient Egypt

The EP behind Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra docu-drama has defended the casting of an actor of mixed heritage descent in the title role, stating that Adele James reflects the “multicultural nature of ancient Egypt.”

With Queen Cleopatra premiering today as the second instalment of the African Queens series, Jane Root, who runs the Jada Pinkett Smith-narrated show’s production outfit Nutopia, said Netflix “asked us to promote a conversation and that’s just what has happened.”

The series has been generating headlines aplenty over the past weeks following the Egyptian government’s staunch criticism of James’ casting, with the government insisting that the ancient Queen was likely of Greek descent and would have been fair skinned. The discussion has been debated on the likes of The Daily Show and Piers Morgan’s Talk TV show and, according to the Egypt Independent, the government-backed al-Wathaeqya documentary channel has begun producing its own doc to more accurately depict Cleopatra’s life.

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In a statement today, Root, a former Discovery President and BBC Controller, said academics have “long debated Cleopatra’s exact parentage,” while she quoted one expert who believes “there is a possibility that Cleopatra was part Egyptian.”

“We decided to depict Cleopatra of mixed heritage to reflect these theories and the multicultural nature of ancient Egypt,” she added. “Race in her times was a long way from what it is now.”

Root added: “It’s not every day that academic discussion of ancient history makes the news.”

The African Queens series takes a docu-drama hybrid approach and the criticism has been directed at James’ acting in the dramatic elements.

The first season focused on Queen Njinga and launched earlier this year, with EP Maxine Watson recently telling Deadline that blockbuster hits including Black Panther and The Woman King had paved the way for a mainstream story helmed by a world-famous name like Pinkett Smith. Season two has so far courted far more controversy than the first.

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