Cleopatra, the last ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt, is said to have killed herself with poison. Netflix's new series about the historic figure similarly did itself in, albeit by other means.
The series, which debuted on May 10 and is #6 in Netflix's Top 10 list, presently has a 2% average audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and an average critic score of 11%.
The show did not fare better with reviewers on IMDB, where it has a 1.1 out of 10 rating. As of the time of publication, 94.2% (around 37,000) of the approximately 39,000 ratings the show received gave it the lowest possible review.
Forbes noted, "Fans usually rate things higher than critics, even bad shows, and the point being, a 1% audience score seems borderline mathematically impossible, even with the controversy the film has attracted."
While Adele James may be a talented dramatist, the decision to cast the black actress in the role and the show's corresponding ahistorical framing have proven contentious in recent months.
TheBlaze previously reported that after the trailer for the show was released, the project was widely lambasted on social media for portraying the historical figure as black. Cleopatra was of Macedonian Greek descent.
"From Executive Producer Jada Pinkett Smith comes a new documentary series exploring the lives of prominent and iconic African Queens," reads the description of the movie from the Netflix YouTube account.
A voiceover in the trailer says, "I remember my grandmother saying to me, 'I don’t care what they tell you in school. Cleopatra was black.'"
The casting decision was widely criticized, especially in light of the claim that the series would be a documentary — and therefore correspond in some way with historical reality.
One popular response to the announcement read, "Egypt is diverse in skin colors, there’s no one Egyptian look so you could do a documentary about black Egyptian rulers but Cleopatra was of Greek ancestry and presenting her story as a battle between native Egyptians and the oppressive Roman tyrants is extremely anachronistic."
The BBC reported that Zahi Hawass, a prominent Egyptologist and former antiquities minister, spoke out against the show, saying, "This is completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was light-skinned, not black."
"Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilisation is black," added Hawass, who indicated that the only known black rulers of Egypt were the Kushite kings of the 26th Dynasty (747-656 B.C.).
Others accused the streaming service of cultural appropriation and historical revisionism.
While some argued that any actor could play the role, Jada Pinkett Smith, an executive producer and narrator on the project, said of the casting decision, "We don't often get to see or hear stories about black queens, and that was really important for me."
Tina Gharvi, the show's director, made clear ahead of time that her intentions were ideological.
Gharvi wrote in Variety, "Was her skin really that white? With this new production, could I find the answers about Cleopatra’s heritage and release her from the stranglehold that Hollywood had placed on her image?"
The universally panned show's creator added, "Doing the research, I realized what a political act it would be to see Cleopatra portrayed by a Black actress. ... 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."
Gharvi underscored that this was no mere documentary, but agitprop: "We need to have a conversation with ourselves about our colorism, and the internalized white supremacy that Hollywood has indoctrinated us with."
Here's a trailer for the much-reviled show:
Queen Cleopatra | Official Trailer | Netflixyoutu.be
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