Controversy over actress in the role of Cleopatra provokes historical debate

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The news that Israeli actress Gal Gadot will play the role of Cleopatra has sparked the latest “whitewashing” controversy – a term that refers to the whitening of characters from other ethnicities – from Hollywood and renewed a historical debate about the ancestry of the former Queen of Egypt.

Gadot, best known for embodying “Wonder Woman” (2017) in the cinema, is confirmed as the producer and star of Paramount’s new cinematic epic. She will take on the role made famous by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 classic, “Cleopatra”.

The biopic will retell the “story for the first time through the eyes of women, both behind and in front of the cameras,” Gadot wrote on Twitter.

The director of “Wonder Woman”, Patty Jenkins, will also be part of the production, as well as the screenwriter of “Ilha do Medo” (2010), Laeta Kalogridis.

The announcement, however, immediately sparked criticism on social media about the choice of the Israeli-born white actress to play an African queen.

“Hollywood always scales white American actresses like the Queen of the Nile. Can’t they find an African actress at least once?” Tweeted author James Hall.

The furor sparks broader criticism of Hollywood’s habit of selecting white actors for non-white roles, apparently based on the assumption of greater box office appeal, a practice that is often called “whitewashing.”

However, other users of social media quickly noticed that Cleopatra herself – a 1st century BC ruler descended from Ptolemy, general of Alexander the Great – was of Greek descent and may have been white.

“Incredibly excited to have the chance to tell the story of Cleopatra, my favorite Ptolemaic pharaoh and arguably the most famous Greek-Macedonian woman in history,” tweeted Kalogridis, who will also be executive producer on the work and is of Greek origin. The post was retweeted by Gadot, who did not comment on the topic.

Others accused the reaction against Gadot’s scale of relying on anti-Semitic notions. Several users of the networks drew attention to Gadot’s mandatory service in the Israeli armed forces.

This is not the first time that the actress has been criticized online. In March, she faced widespread mockery at being in charge of a video montage of celebrities singing “Imagine” by John Lennon in their homes.

The video, intended to give hope to those affected by confinement due to covid-19, was considered disconnected from the lives of ordinary people.

“Wonder Woman 1984”, Gadot’s next film, is due to hit theaters in December, although some analysts predict that its release date could be changed to next year, as has been the case with several other blockbusters.



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