The release of Wonder Woman 1984 in December is uncertain, but director Patty Jenkins and actress Gal Gadot are not letting that stop them from teaming up again for a new biopic about the beloved Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. This will be the first film about Cleopatra made by women, with Laeta Kalgoridis writing the screenplay. While Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s 1963 epic is the most famous Cleopatra film and Angelina Jolie previously had a Cleo project, which got stuck in development hell, Jenkins and Gadot are taking on one of the toughest subjects in cinema history. Best wishes to them!
The recent casting announcement of Gal Gadot as Cleopatra has faced some criticism. Some people are claiming it to be a case of whitewashing, given the Israeli origin of Gadot and the uncertainty around Cleopatra’s ethnicity. Although there is a sculpture of Cleopatra with a strong nose and coins from her reign depicting the same, these features could have been exaggerated to emphasize her strength and association with her father. As most people would not have seen her in person, it is difficult to confirm her actual appearance.
She belongs to the Ptolemaic dynasty which has its roots in Macedonian-Greek lineage, and her parentage remains a mystery. Although her father is Ptolemy XII, there is uncertainty regarding her mother. It is speculated that Cleopatra V could be her mother as she is the only confirmed wife of Ptolemy XII. However, there is no conclusive evidence to support this claim. Even ancient historians have conflicting opinions about her, with Plutarch describing her as “not entirely without comparison,” while Cassius Dio praises her as a woman of exceptional beauty.
It’s clear that Cleopatra was not an Egyptian in the modern sense. The rulers of Egypt during her time, the Ptolemaic pharaohs, were of Greek origin and promoted the use of Greek as the official language. They also frequently married within their own Hellenistic circle, which suggests that Cleopatra may have been a product of this inbreeding.
Instead of arguing about who should play Cleopatra in movies, we should question why there hasn’t been a feature film about Nefertiti, another well-known beautiful Egyptian queen who ruled during a turbulent time. Nefertiti and Akhenaten attempted to overthrow the Egyptian gods and were highly unpopular, leading to revolts. Additionally, King Tut was Nefertiti’s stepson. It seems that our obsession with Cleopatra is due to Shakespeare’s influence. Had he written a tragedy about Nefertiti instead, there would likely be several movies made about her today.
During Shakespeare’s time, discussing religious reform and uprisings was a sensitive topic. As a result, he wrote about the downfall of a powerful queen due to marriage instead, indirectly supporting Elizabeth I’s decision to remain single. The controversy surrounding Gal Gadot’s casting as Cleopatra is reminiscent of current times where people are still waiting for a biopic about Hedy Lamarr, and everyone seems to be unhappy. It’s a very 2020 situation.