Casting misses chance to give north African actors a higher profile, prolonging the debate over Hollywood’s colonisation of ethnicity
Cleopatra is once again getting the big screen treatment, this time courtesy of Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins and the DC heroine herself, Gal Gadot. 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.
In recent years historians, such as Hilke Thuer of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, have questioned the long-held belief that Cleopatra VII was white. Scholars agree that there’s no doubt that Cleo was Macedonian-Greek on her father Ptolemy XII’s side, potentially Persian or Syrian too, but because the ethnic origin of her mother remains unverified it has strengthened the idea that the Egyptian ruler was of mixed heritage. “The mother of Cleopatra has been suggested to have been from the family of the priests of Memphis,” Betsy M Bryan, Alexander Badawy professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, told Newsweek. “If this were the case, then Cleopatra could have been at least 50% Egyptian in origin.”