Long Live the Queen: Netflix’s ‘Queen Cleopatra’ Redefines Historical Drama with a Dash of Rebellion

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Let’s step into a world of ancient splendour and intrigue with Netflix’s recently-released ‘Queen Cleopatra’, shall we? 

The legend of Queen Cleopatra has been immortalized by the Shakespeare tragedy Antony and Cleopatra, but far beyond the basic, albeit exciting stories of beauty and torrid love affairs, Cleopatra’s life was a testament to the strength, intelligence, and resilience of a powerful woman who shaped history. Netflix’s recently released docu-series, ‘Queen Cleopatra’, takes us on a fascinating journey that unveils the incredible depth of this iconic queen. 

‘Queen Cleopatra’ disrupts the prevailing narratives that have reduced Cleopatra to merely a captivating beauty. Executive-produced by another iconic queen, the talented Jada Pinkett Smith, this four-part docu-series introduces a fresh perspective, shedding light on Cleopatra’s political acumen, strategic brilliance, and diplomatic prowess. Co-written by Peres Owino and Nnenne Iwuji, and narrated by Jada Pinkett Smith herself, the series offers an insightful and contemporary take on an ancient era, reimagining Cleopatra as a commanding force of nature who fought tirelessly for the protection of her kingdom. 

The docu-series, ‘Queen Cleopatra’ aims to dispel long-standing myths surrounding the Egyptian queen. Expert interviews and dramatized re-enactments paint a vivid picture of Cleopatra as a tenacious thinker, challenging the portrayal of her as a mere object of beauty. The series confronts the controversial topic of Cleopatra’s ethnicity, questioning the historically inaccurate notion of her being a white-skinned woman. By showcasing Cleopatra’s Mediterranean heritage, the series defies Hollywood’s misrepresentations and delves deeper into her true identity and accomplishments. 

‘Queen Cleopatra’ has however received a lot of backlash and criticism, especially for its casting. Adele James, a British actress of Black and mixed ancestry, played Cleopatra in the dramatic re-enactment scenes of the series and this choice sparked major controversy over the depiction of Cleopatra’s race. Critics argued that the casting decision pushed an Afrocentric agenda and was seen as an appropriation of ancient Egyptian history. Even the government of Egypt expressed negative reactions, stating that the series falsified Egyptian history and emphasizing that Cleopatra was light-skinned with Hellenic features. Zahi Hawass, a prominent Egyptologist, criticized the series for spreading false information and claimed that Cleopatra was a Macedonian Greek. The controversy led to lawsuits, the production of counter-documentaries, and discussions on Egyptian television. 

The director of the series defended the casting decision, highlighting the political significance of portraying Cleopatra as a Black actress. The producers of the series stated that Cleopatra’s ethnicity was not the primary focus, but the depiction aimed to reflect theories about her possible Egyptian ancestry and the multicultural nature of ancient Egypt. Adele James herself questioned the validity of the criticism and expressed disappointment with racial perceptions, emphasizing the need to view Cleopatra as a complex human being beyond her race. 

The four episodes of ‘Queen Cleopatra’ offer a captivating narrative arc, each exploring different facets of the queen’s life and reign. From her ascension to the throne amid sibling rivalries to her strategic alliance with renowned Roman leader, Caesar, the series unravels the complexities of Cleopatra’s journey. We witness her navigating political challenges, forging alliances, and making bold decisions amidst battles for power and survival. Cleopatra’s personal life and relationships are also illuminated, revealing a multidimensional woman behind the regal facade. 

In the first episode, titled Rivals, a young Cleopatra fulfils her father’s wish and ascends the throne in Egypt despite sibling rivalries and forms an alliance with noted Roman leader, Caesar. In the second, titled When in Rome, the birth of Caesarion unites Rome and Egypt, putting Cleopatra in a favourable position, until a shocking murder puts her and her son’s lives under threat. The third episode titled What Must Be Done depicts Cleopatra forging a strategic relationship for personal gains as Egypt thrives under her rule, and then making a bold decision in the heat of battle. In the fourth and final episode titled The Last Pharaoh, Octavian and the Roman army target Egypt which causes crises to erupt on and off the battlefield, and Cleopatra must protect herself, her children and her empire. 

Without giving any spoilers, through ‘Queen Cleopatra’, viewers get to witness the rise of a queen who defied societal norms and expectations to lead her people to greatness. The series also highlights the cultural importance of Cleopatra, showcasing her as an icon of African history and heritage. By celebrating Cleopatra’s leadership and accomplishments, the series pays homage to the powerful women who shaped our world. For those captivated by history, culture and the remarkable women who left a mark on our world, ‘Queen Cleopatra’ is an absolute must-watch. 

While some critics argue that it gives soap opera vibes and others claim it lacks the melodrama of juicy historical dramas, the series offers a refreshing perspective on Cleopatra’s legacy, blending entertainment and education seamlessly. ‘Queen Cleopatra’ pulls viewers into a world of grandeur, power, and captivating storytelling, and the docu-series transcends many clichés surrounding Cleopatra, unveiling her true essence as a formidable leader and influential figure. Through its engaging narrative and portrayal, ‘Queen Cleopatra’ breathes new life into history, inviting us to marvel at not just the beauty, but the strength and intelligence of one of the most fascinating women to have ever graced the history books.

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