Gal Gadot, best known for "Wonder Woman," is confirmed to produce and star in a new big-screen epic about Cleopatra Photo: AFP/File
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Gal Gadot 'whitewashing' row sparks Cleopatra history debate

35 Comments
By ANGELA WEISS

News that Israeli actress Gal Gadot will play Cleopatra has prompted Hollywood's latest "whitewashing" row -- and renewed a historical debate over the ancient Queen of Egypt's ancestry.

Gadot, best known for "Wonder Woman," is confirmed to produce and star in a new big-screen epic from Paramount, taking up the role made famous by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 classic "Cleopatra."

The biopic will retell the "story for the first time through women's eyes, both behind and in front of the camera," Gadot tweeted.

"Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins is on board, as is "Shutter Island" writer Laeta Kalogridis.

But the announcement immediately prompted social media criticism of the white, Israel-born star's casting as an African queen.

"Hollywood has always cast white American actresses as the Queen of the Nile. For once, can't they find an African actress?" tweeted author James Hall.

The furor taps into wider criticism of Hollywood's history of casting white actors in non-white roles on the apparent assumption of higher box office appeal, a practice commonly referred to as "whitewashing."

However, other social media users quickly noted that Cleopatra herself -- a 1st-century BC ruler descended from Alexander the Great's general Ptolemy -- was of Greek heritage, and may have been white.

"Incredibly excited to get the chance to tell the story of Cleopatra, my favorite Ptolemaic Pharoah (sic) and arguably the most famous Macedonian Greek woman in history," tweeted Kalogridis, who will also executive produce the film and is of Greek heritage.

Gadot, who has not commented on the row, retweeted the comment.

Others accused the backlash against Gadot's casting of leaning on anti-Semitic tropes. Several social media users had drawn attention to Gadot's mandatory service in Israel's military.

Gadot is no stranger to online criticism, having faced widespread mockery in March for spearheading a video montage of celebrities singing "Imagine" from their sprawling homes.

The video, intended to provide hope for those affected by the Covid lockdown, was slammed as being out of touch with the lives of everyday people.

Gadot's "Wonder Woman 1984" is due in theaters this December, although some analysts predict its release date could follow multiple other blockbusters in shifting to next year.

© 2020 AFP

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

35 Comments
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These objections are either pretty ignorant, or just politically motivated, or both. There's some controversy about Cleo's ethnicity, but the majority opinion is...

Scholars identify Cleopatra as having been essentially of Greek ancestry with some Persian and Syrian ancestry, based on the fact that her Macedonian Greek family (the Ptolemaic dynasty) had intermingled with the Seleucid aristocracy of the time... Cleopatra probably had not a drop of Egyptian blood and that she "would have described herself as Greek."

Based on that - you know, scholarship - no reason I can see why an Israeli actress couldn't play Cleopatra. Unless you can find a Greek/Persian/Syrian/Macedonian actress to do it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra_race_controversy

31 ( +32 / -1 )

They should have a Japanese play the part.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

It's called ACTING people. This is not the same as black-face minstrel shows from yester-year.

It's her gig and she can do what she wants! The real question is about the outcome. I want to see terrific acting, make up, costumes etc. The angle of "through women's eyes" could be very interesting.

If Russell Crowe can play the role of a Roman Gladiator convincingly, why not an this actor playing the African Queen?

16 ( +18 / -2 )

The Israeli Gal is swarthy enough for the role. Much ado about nothing, methinks.

10 ( +13 / -3 )

Another pathetic pseudo-historic hollywood fiasco coming !!..

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Cleopatra wasn't black. Depictions of her done at the time -- busts and coins -- prove that.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra#/media/File:Kleopatra-VII.-Altes-Museum-Berlin1.jpg

As for Gadot, her ancestors came from a land about 300 km away from Egypt, so yeah, she seems like the right pick.

These critics are ridiculous. But that's not surprising, in light of the current "social-justice" movement

22 ( +24 / -2 )

You people need to brush up on your history. Cleopatra was Elizabeth Taylor. She was born in England, was white, and converted to Judaism. Granted, England and Egypt sound alike, so that is probably why you are confused.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Holywood Romans

As historian Adrian Goldsworthy noted:

“Absolutely nothing is certain.  Cleopatra may have had black, brown, blonde or even red hair, and her eyes could have been brown, grey, green or blue.  Almost any combination of these is possible.  Similarly, she may have been very light skinned or had a darker more Mediterranean complexion.  Fairer skin is probably marginally more likely given her ancestry.  Greek art traditionally represented women and goddesses as very pale, and fair skin seems to have been part of the ideal of beauty.  Roman propaganda never suggested that Cleopatra was dark-skinned, although this may simply mean that she was not exceptionally dark or simply that the color of her skin was not important to her critics.

At no point will we need to consider Antony’s appearance at similar length and this should remind us that the obsession with Cleopatra’s looks is unusual, and not entirely healthy.  Not only is there no good evidence, but also there is something disturbing about the desire to base our understanding of her first and foremost on her appearance.Cleopatra was not another Helen of Troy, a mythical figure about whom the most important thing was her beauty.  She was no mere object of desire, but a very active political player in her own kingdom and beyond.

Cleopatra was born and raised in the real and very dangerous world of the Ptolemaic court in the first century BC.  When her father died in 51 BC, she became queen.  Auletes had planned for his son and daughter to rule jointly.  Cleopatra had other ideas.”

-from Antony And Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy, c2010 pp.128-129

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Hollywood Romans

Writing in the New Your Review of Books (1/13/11) Professor Mary Beard observed:

“For the most part, however, we have no knowledge of many of the most   basic facts of Cleopatra’s life. Her famous end is perhaps well enough served, with some further eyewitness testimony (however biased or            unreliable it may be, and all from her enemy’s side). Of the beginning of her life we know almost nothing. She was the daughter of Ptolemy XII, but the identity of her mother is a mystery, as is the date of her birth.”

“The truth is that “peel[ing] away the encrusted myth” of Cleopatra reveals that there is very little underneath the ancient fictional surface, and certainly nothing that can be the stuff of a plausible life story—unless it is            padded out with half-relevant background that is, in a sense, fiction of a different kind. In this case the rich evidence on papyrus that survives from Greco-Roman Egypt hardly helps. In the end, we should probably resist the  allure of biography and stick with the Augustan myth and Horace’s  ‘demented queen.’”

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The BBC has produced programmes in which English queens have been played by black actresses, did these same people protest then because of the historical inaccuracy? Not at all.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Just let everyone play everyone else. Why not? Makes things more interesting.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

What? They can't find pictures of Cleopatra on Google?

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Stupid woke SJWs are so so annoying, time I wish I could go back in time to when these fools didnt exist!!

Whoever is responsible for the creation of SJWs sure has a lot to answer for LOL!!!

And yeah she was GREEK,............

10 ( +13 / -3 )

What? They can't find pictures of Cleopatra on Google?

Woke doesn't play well with facts.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Woke just jumped the shark with this latest case of retarded, faux "outrage"

1 ( +4 / -3 )

BigYenToday  07:52 am JST

These objections are either pretty ignorant, or just politically motivated, or both. There's some controversy about Cleo's ethnicity, but the majority opinion is...

Scholars identify Cleopatra as having been essentially of Greek ancestry with some Persian and Syrian ancestry, based on the fact that her Macedonian Greek family (the Ptolemaic dynasty) had intermingled with the Seleucid aristocracy of the time... Cleopatra probably had not a drop of Egyptian blood and that she "would have described herself as Greek."

It's very clear from the original artwork and mummy masks that the first Egyptians were black. Unquestionably. However due to the Nile and their approximation to the Medditerrean Sea, everybody wanted something from there and Egypt was invaded by various peoples over time and there were some mixing , incl. interracial marriage and sex. Art works from later centuries show this. Even the busts of Cleopatra herself show some skin darkening but not necessarily black traits. Maybe some.

Cleopatra in no way looked like Elizabeth Taylor. By her time the Egyptian language was extinct and the Greek language and culture was predominate. After all the centuries and millenia did Cleopatra have some Black African ancestry? Probably. How much? It's hard to tell due to all that time before, and all the time since. And when the Romans took over that stuff didn't matter. in the Roman Empire race really didn't mean squat. Black subjects could be citizens, Romans traded with African kingdoms and more.

-8 ( +4 / -12 )

Cleopatra in no way looked like Elizabeth Taylor. By her time the Egyptian language was extinct and the Greek language and culture was predominate.

The Egyptian language was not extinct. The Ptolemies spoke Greek. Cleopatra was one of the few to learn the local language in addition to Greek.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

It's very clear from the original artwork and mummy masks that the first Egyptians were black.

Certainly the original inhabitants were black, the ordinary people, especially in southern Egypt (the Nubians). The Ptolemaic Dynasty, though, of which Cleopatra was the last, was not. It was Greek. Even the Seleucids, with whom the Ptolemies intermarried, were Hellenistic. I think that to claim Cleopatra was black, or even mainly black, is more a triumph of wishful thinking rather than in accord with the available evidence. It wasn't "centuries and millennia" that the Ptolemies ruled for, it was 275 years, and as they frequently married their own siblings, it's hard to imagine that they would marry into the general population.

There are quite a few portraits of Cleopatra in the Wiki article I linked. I've also done an images search online for Cleo's death masks and portraits. Many Greek and Mediterranean people are dark-skinned - "swarthy" as someone said up above. It's hard to get away from the contemporary re-imaginings of our time, or from Elizabeth Taylor, but I don't see enough in any of the images (let alone the opinions of the vast majority of scholars) to support the view Cleo was a black woman, or even mixed-race to the degree where she can be claimed to be so exclusively by those pushing or supporting this "whitewashing" claim against Gal Gadot.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

When I read stories like this I often wonder just who and how many people are offended. I don’t move in ‘woke’ circles and maybe I’m just ignorant of the waves of offense and outrage.

Gal Gadot is gorgeous.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Stories like this are annoying because they allow the extremist far-right to dismiss all minority concerns as trivial frippery.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

One of the most pathetic squeals of fake/ignorant outrage over a non issue that I have had the misfortune to come across.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I wonder what it must feel like to be so dumb to react to such frivolous crap?

Ill give it a try....

”There’s no way this lady could play Cleopatra, she’s way way too tall!”

meh

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It would be interesting if some mosaics or pottery could be found which depicted her skin color.

The first Ptolemy was Macedonian, but about three hundred years separated him from Cleopatra. Can we be certain about her DNA ancestry?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Wonder Woman lived on Paradise Island, which was known by another name in Greek mythology. This in no way affects Elizabeth Taylor’s birthplace. Stop confusing the issues, please.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Justice for Themyscirans!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Alfie NoakesToday  05:10 pm JST

Stories like this are annoying because they allow the extremist far-right to dismiss all minority concerns as trivial frippery.

They’re also annoying because they allow the extremist far-left to dismiss all reasonable opinion as far-right whitewashing.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

They’re also annoying because they allow the extremist far-left to dismiss all reasonable opinion as far-right whitewashing.

Nice one. You almost got in this silly idea eh at the far-rig it has any reasonable opinions.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Nice one. You almost got in this silly idea eh at the far-rig it has any reasonable opinions.

irony is obviously not your strong suit.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

irony is obviously not your strong suit.

Neither are reasonable opinions for the far-right.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

It would be nice to go back to the day when left and right referred to the way a man dresses. I bet Cleopatra could have told us a few things about that.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Stories like this are annoying because they allow the extremist far-right to dismiss all minority concerns as trivial frippery.

"Everyone I disagree with is an extremist"

4 ( +5 / -1 )

But what if the extremist far left is actually a fabrication of the extremist far right? Does that mean that Gal Gadot is actually the Black Panther? Things are so confusing these days.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The BBC has produced programmes in which English queens have been played by black actresses

I am out of touch with British TV, so I found this interesting. I have googled for more info, and found only one example, back in 2016, of a Black British actor playing a role based on a factual queen of England.

In "The Hollow Crown", itself based on Shakespearean plays, Sophie Okonedo played the part of Margaret of Anjou, who is based on the real-life Queen of England Margaret, and has been portrayed by white actresses in the past. 

However, the poster tokyo-m wrote 'programmes...queens...actresses...' in the plural, so there must be plenty more not showing up in search results. Can anyone shed a light?

.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

BigYenOct. 16  03:04 pm JST

It's very clear from the original artwork and mummy masks that the first Egyptians were black.

Certainly the original inhabitants were black, the ordinary people, especially in southern Egypt (the Nubians). The Ptolemaic Dynasty, though, of which Cleopatra was the last, was not. It was Greek. Even the Seleucids, with whom the Ptolemies intermarried, were Hellenistic. I think that to claim Cleopatra was black, or even mainly black, is more a triumph of wishful thinking rather than in accord with the available evidence. It wasn't "centuries and millennia" that the Ptolemies ruled for, it was 275 years, and as they frequently married their own siblings, it's hard to imagine that they would marry into the general population.

It wasn't "centuries and millennia" that the Ptolemies ruled for, it was 275 years,*

The "centuries and millennia" I referred to wasn't just the Ptolemic dynasty years. Egypt was one of the first civilizations (after China which has been around for 6000 - 7000 years). During the millenia that Egyptian civilization existed many things happened - pyramids, dynasties, ruling over Hebrews and other nations, invasions, and racial intermixing. There was even a period when Ethiopian kings ruled Egypt. So much happened in Egypt during those eras. Cleopatra was a Ptolemic ruler. She wasn't black but did she have a black ancestor from the distant past? Looking at Egypt's long history that's a possibility, a very distant one.

She certainly didn't look like Liz Taylor. It's very hard to tell her exact genetic makeup 100% but all this uproar about Gal Gadot playing her is just dumb. Her being an Israeli she is probably ethnically/racially/regionally closest to the real deal anyway.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Well okay. Here she is. Someone do an image search a see which actress would be the closest genetic match. To me, she looks vaguely like Wilma Flintstone.

https://www.world-archaeology.com/world/africa/egypt/cleopatra-was-no-beauty-coins-shows/amp/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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