Was Cleopatra Black?
Nationwide — Over 60,000 people have signed a petition calling for the cancellation of Queen Cleopatra, a new series produced by Jada Pinkett Smith. Egyptian attorney Mahmoud Al-Semary has filed a lawsuit against Netflix regarding the documentary. Social media has exploded over its contents. Why? Because the ancient Egyptian queen is played by Adelle James, a Black actress.
Was Cleopatra Black? For generations, Cleopatra VII, the subject of the new series, has been described as Black in African American folklore. Such sentiment has also extended beyond the Black community.
Caesar’s Palace, a prominent Las Vegas hotel, once included a floating bar entitled “Cleopatra’s Barge.” All of the bartenders were young Black women. During the summer of 1968, the Los Angeles arts community hosted a magnificent play in McArthur Park about the life of Cleopatra, featuring Diana Sands, a prominent Black actress, as the queen.
By the early 1970s, the Anheuser Busch Corporation commissioned several artists to depict “The Great Kings And Queens of Africa.” In the popular series, Cleopatra VII is portrayed as Black.
The Africentric movement of the late 20th Century gave African Americans further ammunition in support of their conventional views about the race of Cleopatra VII. Black scholars pointed out that ancient Egypt was in Africa. They also noted that the early Egyptians referred to their country as Kemet, “Land of the Black people.” And traced their origin to the southeast—the Land of Punt, on the horn of Africa. Further, most of the royal mummies are decidedly Negroid.
Scholars also revealed that the ancient Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and other eyewitnesses overwhelmingly described their ancient Egyptian contemporaries as Black people. Finally, the Christian Bible classifies the ancient Egyptians as among the sons of Ham, whom authorities have designated as the father of the Black race.
Furthermore, there was a long line of indisputable Black queens who ruled Egypt over the millennia. They included: Ashayet, Kawit, Ahmose Nefertari, Hatshepsut, Tiye, and Nefertiti.
Critics, however, point out that by the time of the reign of Cleopatra VII (51-30B.C.), indigenous Black Egypt had vanished beneath the waves of multiple foreign invaders. The last of whom were the Greeks. Cleopatra VII was the final active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Her father was Greek, but her mother is unknown.
The surviving depictions of Cleopatra VII vary so widely that no accurate conclusion may be drawn as to her ethnicity. However, Hilke Thur of the Austrian Academy of Sciences has suggested that the remains of Princess Arsinoe, thought by many to have been the sister of Cleopatra VII, were discovered in a burial chamber in the Ephesus Museum in Vienna, Austria in 1929. Thur’s conclusions are highly controversial, with many experts accepting them and others rejecting them.
Of the specialists who accept the discovered remains as those of Arsinoe–and that the princess was indeed the sister of Cleopatra [VII]–Know Thyself Institute has broadcast an intriguing revelation of the conclusions reached by a team of distinguished scientists based upon forensic evidence derived from Arsinoe’s remains. The spokesperson of the group has stated: “Until recently Cleopatra’s [VII] dynasty was thought to be Greek, European, and Caucasian. But some scholars now believe Cleopatra and her siblings had African blood…Our revelation backs up the controversial theory that the princess [Arsinoe]and therefore her sister Cleopatra…had African blood.”
If so, given the American “one drop” racial rule that applies to Black people, producer Jada Pickett is correct and African American folklore has been vindicated.
We may also confidently quote historian J.A. Rogers from his book, World’s Great Men of Color: “Until the rise of the doctrine of white superiority, Cleopatra was generally depicted as colored. Shakespeare in the opening lines of his Anthony and Cleopatra called her ‘tawny’. In his days, mulattos were called ‘Tawny-Moors.’”
Legrand H. Clegg II is the City Attorney emeritus for Compton, California, former president of the Western Region of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations and producer of the documentary, “When Black People Ruled The World.”