Cleopatra returns to the big screen, starring Gal Gadot.


Ava Parkinson, Writer

Gal Gadot made the announcement that she has been casted for the role of Cleopatra in a new Paramount Pictures project, directed by Patty Jenkins and written by Laeta Kalogridis. Though some people are thrilled to hear that the motion picture story of Cleopatra has both a female director and female screenwriter, others see the casting choice of Gadot as Cleopatra as another incident of whitewashing in Hollywood movies.

On one hand, outraged audiences believe that this role stood as the perfect opportunity for representation in Hollywood movies, especially movies centered around Cleopatra, with white actors such as Elizabeth Taylor, Hildegard Neil, Claudette Colbert and Vivien Leigh being the most notable actors to have taken on the role. Furthermore, audiences have also noticed that, despite this being a great opportunity for an educational film about the history of Cleopatra, there seemed to be a lack of people from Egypt involved in the creation process. Gadot being casted in multiple notable roles in the past offers Middle Eastern representation as well as more diverse representation in general in the film industry than the white actors who have been previously linked to the role of Cleopatra. However, audiences speculate that the representation is the only thing that matters in the world of Hollywood, which can be seen as a good thing, but not while completely disregarding accurate representation. This can be tied to audience’s reactions to the casting of Naomi Scott for the role of Jasmine in the most recent live action Aladdin. People were frustrated that an opportunity to cast underrepresented and fully capable Middle Eastern actors to play the role. The Guardian reports, “Scott [was] just “other” enough to mean that the film-makers could not be accused of whitewashing”. Furthermore, when the teaser posters for the movie Gods of Egypt (2016) were released, they were met with backlash due to the fact that not a single actor in the main cast was Egyptian and white actors were cast to play Egyptian Gods. People question how Gadot’s Cleopatra is any different from this.

Audiences on the other hand argue that Cleopatra was not even African, nor was she Arab. Cleopatra’s ethnicity has always been up for debate, however, it is most commonly believed that she was Greek, as her ancestry can be traced back to Ptolemy I Soter of Macedonia who was the first Pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt. Cleopatra VII Philopator herself was the last active ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt, therefore supporting the notion of her having Greek ancestry. On top of this, historians also speculate that she was the product of an incestuous bloodline (her mother and father supposedly being sister and brother), therefore making the possibility of her having any ancestry outside of her own family unlikely. On the contrary, Cleopatra was also the only the only ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt who knew how to speak the Egyptian language, which suggests she likely had a close relationship to a native speaker, perhaps her mother. More recent discoveries (according to Betsy M. Bryan of JHU professor of Egyptian Art and Archeology) suggest that Cleopatra’s mother could have been from the family of the priests of Memphis, which would make her at least 50% ethnically Egyptian.