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Netflix Has Another ‘Documentary’ With a Ton of Red Flags

Let Cleopatra rest in peace.

Netflix Queen Cleopatra

Netflix is at it again with their questionable docuseries. Last year, the archeology community petitioned the streaming giant to reclassify the “documentary” series Ancient Apocalypse as science-fiction rather than historical facts. The show basically tossed a bunch of possibilities of an Atlantean civilization influencing all the ancient civilizations around the world before experiencing an apocalypse that wiped them from history. It was a lot of “what ifs” with racist implications and without any proof or evidence.

Instead of learning from that mistake, Netflix has released a trailer for a new documentary that also seems to keep facts to a footnote. Queen Cleopatra focuses on Cleopatra VII, the last pharaoh of Egypt, through expert testimonies and dramatic reenactments. Although the series doesn’t hit Netflix until May 10th, it’s already showing some massive red flags. The narrative and some of the consulted experts are making people more nervous than excited.

Why is Netflix saying Cleopatra was Black?

Queen Cleopatra is supposed to be the first in a series of documentaries about African queens produced by Jada Pinkett-Smith. The trailer shows a Black woman playing Cleopatra while the expert voiceovers talk about her being an empowering Black, Egyptian female figure who loved her country. Here’s the thing, none of that is technically true. Cleopatra was born in Egypt, making her Egyptian in that sense. However, we know she was a Ptolemaic ruler making her of Greek/Macedonian descent, not Egyptian.

When Alexander the Great invaded Egypt, he left his general Ptolemy there to oversee his claim. Ptolemy and his descendants ruled as pharaohs after Alexander’s death. His line ended with Cleopatra VII, who we all think of as the infamous historical figure known as Cleopatra. Although bits of Cleopatra’s family tree are a little unclear, most of her ancestors married their siblings to produce pure colonial offspring ruling Egypt (this YouTube video breaks down the confusing bloodline). From art created during Cleopatra’s lifetime, we can see they depict her as looking more Mediterranean-Greek.

To be fair, Cleopatra had an interesting life. She was the only Ptolemaic ruler that bothered to learn Egyptian and she fought to keep her throne out of the hands of the Roman Empire. However, it seems odd to start out telling the stories of African queens with her when there are so many actual African women who lead extraordinary lives. I would have started out with someone like Hatshepsut who reigned for 20 prosperous years during the height of ancient Egypt (and whose story hasn’t been told a million times by Hollywood).

Actually, we shouldn’t forget what they told us in school.

Besides claiming Cleopatra was a Black woman, the trailer raised another red flag about the show’s take on facts in general. One clip showed a woman saying, “I remember my grandmother saying to me, ‘I don’t care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was Black.'” This is a very dangerous statement to not only include in a documentary but to highlight in the trailer. The phrase “I don’t care what they tell you in school” is a blatant disregard for academia, teachers, and facts.

Sure, let’s ignore the historical record. Why should we follow evidence? Let’s just go with something some random person tells us instead. In an age where cable news networks like Fox News spin fiction as fact for more viewership and books are being banned all over the country, we shouldn’t be ignoring the facts taught in school. No, public school curriculums aren’t perfect and tend to sanitize history, but actual historians compiled most of the materials presented. Just like we had people without any actual medical training who nonetheless considered themselves medical professionals during COVID-19, we also have people with no historical training feeling qualified to rewrite history.

The massive historical revisions are so egregious, an Egyptian lawyer is actually suing Netflix to try to halt production on the series entirely.

Say no to colonizer cosplay.

The raising of the red flags wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the Egyptologists featured in the Queen Cleopatra trailer. As Tiktok user @manalmet pointed out, Dr. Colleen Manassa Darnell popped up in the trailer as one of the experts on Egypt. Dr. Darnell is a white American Egyptologist who also has an active online presence under the username “Vintage Egyptologist.” On her Instagram and YouTube channel, she shows off her vintage clothing and house. The problem? Well, the era in which she chooses to cosplay is the 1920s and 1930s. This era is synonymous with the British colonizers of Egypt essentially grave robbing ancient Egyptian artifacts.

For some reason, Dr. Darnell takes her colonizer cosplay one step further and actually wears these outfits on archaeological sites. Dr. Darnell and her husband (also a white Egyptologist) like to pose for pictures while actual Egyptian people work near them. It boggles my mind that someone who loves ancient Egypt enough to devote their life to it chooses to identify with the people who colonized the country in the modern era and thinks it is fine to parade around Egypt celebrating that. Why would Netflix pick her, of all people, to discuss Egypt? Netflix, you have the chance to make something good, yet you keep making the worst choices imaginable. There are too many red flags for me to even try and watch this one.

(featured image: Netflix)

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D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a freelance pop culture writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.