Queens at the heart of the controversy? What were Charlotte and Cleopatra like?

Apparently, Netflix is ​​the home of the controversial Queens. In Bridgerton, it brought up the centennial discussion around the skin color of Queen Charlotte, who for many was the first black queen in history, although her skin was fair, she was born in Germany and her origin could be Moorish. As if that weren’t enough, in May, in addition to the spin-off that will retell Charlotte’s story, it brings Cleopatra, but a black Cleopatra and the world erupts again: Egyptian, of Greek origin, would she really be black?

The discussion revolves around racism, structural racism, and a lot of genetic confusion. Cinema contributed to this questioning, always casting Caucasian actresses in roles that were not necessarily theirs. Charlotte, for example, was played by Helen Mirren in The Madness of King George and then by Golda Rosheuvel in Bridgerton. Golda would be closer to the “true” queen, who would have her skin and features altered in many of her portraits to “lighten” what would not be the expected traits of a sovereign. The fact is that nobody is sure of anything. Charlotte was born in 1744, in Germany, and was a descendant of the Portuguese Margarita (sic) de Castro e Souza, daughter of King Afonso III and one of his lovers, the Moorish Madragana. That is, her exact skin color was not ‘white’, and racism is clear when still in 2023 we are discussing this. Her story will be the theme of Queen Charlotte, which premieres on May 4, in a freely fictional and romanticized approach, recounting her arrival in London at just 17 years old, her rise to power through her marriage to King George, and how she imposed changes. in the prejudiced British Court. The only part that nobody discusses is her romance with George, after all, it was one of the rare unions considered genuine love in royalty.

As for Cleopatra, not even millennia resolved the genetic impasse. Historians differ to this day about her appearance, more than two thousand years after her death. And even before the film version with Gal Gadot hits theaters, or the feature film with Angelina Jolie leaves the drawing board, Netflix brings Queen Cleopatra, a four-episode documentary series that features actress Adele James in the role of the legendary and iconic Egyptian, generating a violent reactive movement against the platform.

Executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Cleopatra is part of a documentary series that sets out to revisit the lives of great African queens, starting with the most famous of them all. Far beyond the color of her skin, Cleopatra went through a macho narrative that always highlighted her beauty and her romances much more than her ability as a leader of an occupied nation. It’s what many women are most concerned about fixing, giving Cleopatra what’s hers: recognition for her political intelligence and skill. However, it is racism that prevails. In this case, the famous incest of the Ptolemies, Cleopatra’s family of Greek origin, who only married each other (including siblings) to maintain the purity of their lineage. Egyptian historians are vehemently arguing that it is wrong to show her as white or black, as she was Mediterranean and genetically 100% Greek.

The director of the new production, Tina Gharayi, herself a Persian, obviously disagrees. She said in a first-person article published in Variety that “perhaps it’s not just because I directed a series that portrays Cleopatra as black, but because I asked Egyptians to see themselves as Africans, and they’re furious with me for that. I’m fine with that,” she said. And she goes further: “Cleopatra was eight generations away from these Ptolemaic ancestors, making the chance that she was white somewhat unlikely. After 300 years, with certainty, we can safely say that Cleopatra was Egyptian”, she argues. But if they only reproduced with each other, genetically the mathematical probability is even to keep the Ptolemaic DNA “pure”, in other words, there was no miscegenation and she could have fair skin, even if not Caucasian.

Cleopatra, more than Charlotte, is at the heart of the Afrocentrist discussion. Basically, what is being argued is that the tradition of retelling History from a Eurocentric perspective emphasizes the connections of ancient Egypt with Mediterranean and Eastern civilizations, minimizing and even denying African roots. Either way, tempers are running so high that a petition to cancel the show has gained traction online, with more than 60,000 signatures calling for the show’s cancellation on the grounds that it has historical inaccuracies and is cultural appropriation. I haven’t seen any of the series yet, but effectively I always warn of the danger of revisitation and creative freedoms that confuse people who don’t have access or even curiosity about the most accurate information.

What is even clearer was the film’s drama starring Elizabeth Taylor. At the time, she earned a million dollars for the role, something astronomical in the 1960s. The behind-the-scenes production was so out of control that it drove Fox into bankruptcy. And it contributes, until today, to a good part of the discussion, which is very far from a conclusion. After all, there is now a legal case accusing Queen Cleopatra series of violating media laws and trying to “erase the Egyptian identity”. Will there ever be an end to this feud?


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