If you’re reading MiscelAnas’ posts today, you’re wondering about the current criticism that marks Friday. I swear it’s a coincidence! Citadel and Ghosted were long overdue for a post and passed ahead of Queen Cleopatra, which just debuted on Netflix. Sadly, it’s another disappointment.
I have been following for some time the controversy surrounding Cleopatra as an African queen and, even more so, a black one. I’m an advocate of revising the narrative that impacted the view we’ve had of her for millennia, it doesn’t bother me at all to stop in the process of portraying her as European, but I don’t know what she was like. Nobody knows. And yes, Egypt is in Africa, but its culture has always been from the Middle East. Folks, touching this hive is bound to get stung. Having said ALL of that as a disclaimer, I’m sorry to say, the Queen Cleopatra documentary is bad. That simple.
Part of a project led by Jada Pinkett Smith to recover the stories of great African queens, it opens with the most famous of them and brings historians from different ethnicities to talk about Cleopatra. Merging testimonies with staging, something that is not new, it is a three-hour documentary (in three episodes) that covers not only controversial topics but also the legacy of the Egyptian queen. But neither one side nor the other satisfies.
On the historical side, the arguments in favor of revising the queen’s color are obviously what opens up, however, it is a parade of guesswork and no concrete proof that due to the family habit of the Ptomolaics and only reproducing among themselves – precisely to maintain the ‘purity’ of their lineage – is relegated to a ‘legend’. Furthermore, one historian even claims that Cleopatra’s father could have been illegitimate and that no one knows who her mother was. Arguing that she was not a Ptolemaic and therefore a potential usurper is not quite the most realistic justification for saying that she should not have been Caucasian either. It honestly makes no difference to me what color she was, I want to see her as an intelligent and capable woman, not the seductress sold by Roman propaganda.
But we don’t even have that. The only way to give Cleopatra the credit she has is to take any skill away from Caesar or Mark Antony, two generals who fell in love with her. This simplism hinders the necessary movement of taking away from women the backstage shadow and denied skills. Cleopatra was a great woman, intelligent, sagacious, a leader as well as a passionate, sensual, and self-possessed woman. One thing does not eliminate the other. And it is this dramatic narrative that makes the docudrama a low-budget soap opera.
I really missed concrete historical data, and documented sources that would adjust the narrative. It’s a pity because Cleopatra is still waiting to have her story told without conflict. Even millennia can’t solve that.