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Gal Gadot defends casting Cleopatra after director Patty Jenkins accused of whitewashing Egyptian

Actress Gal Gadot has responded to the backlash that followed earlier this year after it was announced she would be playing Cleopatra in a new big-screen epic from Paramount.

Plans for the Israeli actress to play the Egyptian Queen sparked Hollywood’s latest ‘whitewashing’ row when news broke in October and renewed a historical debate over the ancient Queen of Egypt‘s ancestry.

The film’s director Patty Jenkins was accused of ‘whitewashing’ but Gadot, 35, has now spoken out about the allegations defending the movie’s casting with her in the title role.

Gal Gadot has defended her plans to play Cleopatra following accusations of whitewashing

When news broke in October, critics said an Arab or African actress should play the ancient Egyptian queen

When news broke in October, critics said an Arab or African actress should play the ancient Egyptian queen

The Israeli film star, pictured right, noted in an interview that Cleopatra was Macedonian and may have been white or of mixed ancestry. She is pictured with director of Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins who will also direct Cleopatra

The Israeli film star, pictured right, noted in an interview that Cleopatra was Macedonian and may have been white or of mixed ancestry. She is pictured with director of Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins who will also direct Cleopatra

‘First of all, if you want to be true to the facts, then Cleopatra was Macedonian,’ Gadot told BBC Arabic. 

‘We were looking for a Macedonian actress that could fit Cleopatra. She wasn’t there. And I was very passionate about Cleopatra. 

‘I have friends from across the globe, whether they’re Muslims or Christian or Catholic or atheist or Buddhist, or Jewish of course… People are people. And with me, I want to celebrate the legacy of Cleopatra and honor this amazing historic icon that I admire so much. But, you know, anybody can make this movie and anybody can go ahead and do it. I’m very passionate that I’m gonna do my own, too.’ 

Gadot, best known for Wonder Woman will also produce the new Cleopatra film, taking on the role made famous by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 classic of the same name.

The biopic will retell the ‘story for the first time through women’s eyes, both behind and in front of the camera,’ Gadot said.

Twitter users had assumed the announcement was another case of Hollywood directors casting white woman for ethnic roles

Twitter users had assumed the announcement was another case of Hollywood directors casting white woman for ethnic roles

Twitter users quickly responded to the outrage, revealing Cleopatra was in fact Greek, not North African

Twitter users quickly responded to the outrage, revealing Cleopatra was in fact Greek, not North African

When news originally broke in October of Gadot’s role it immediately prompted social media criticism of the white, Israeli-born star’s casting as an African queen.

‘Hollywood has always cast white American actresses as the Queen of the Nile. For once, can’t they find an African actress?’ tweeted author James Hall.

The furor tapped into wider criticism of Hollywood’s history of casting white actors in non-white roles on the apparent assumption of higher box office appeal, a practice commonly referred to as ‘whitewashing.’

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

The outrage was met with ridicule by other social media users who were quick to point out the Egyptian ruler was actually ethnically Greek or Persian. 

Gal Gadot has been tapped to play Cleopatra in the new epic, drawing criticism on social media from users who said the white, Israeli actress should not play the Egyptian queen after wrongly assuming she was black

Cleopatra

Gal Gadot is to play Cleopatra in the new epic. The casting in October drew criticism on social media from users who said the white, Israeli actress should not play the Egyptian queen after wrongly assuming she was black

‘Cleopatra was NOT black, she was of Greek descent, and there are even effigies of the time on how she looked like. People need to stop trying to rewrite history with the SJW stupidity of today,’ one user tweeted.

THE REAL CLEOPATRA – THE WORLD’S FIRST CELEBRITY  

Cleopatra was the last of a long line to Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt – descended from Greek general Alexander the Great. 

By the time of her birth in 69 BC, Alexander’s empire had been reduced to a shadow of its former self, while the ruling class was prone to bitter in-fighting.

Married to her brother Ptolemy XIII in her father’s will, she united with Julius Caesar against him – famously having herself smuggled to see the Roman general inside a carpet so she could strike terms with him.

After his murder in 44BC Egypt, Mark Anthony was appointed to oversee the eastern reaches of the Republic – including the independent kingdom of Egypt.

Though married to Octavian’s sister, Anthony formed a relationship with Cleopatra and had three children with her.

Eventually Anthony and Octavian turned against one-another and fought for control of the Republic, which ended with defeat at the Battle of Actium.

Octavian chased Anthony and Cleopatra back to Alexandria, where they were eventually captured.

Anthony died in Cleopatra’s arms after fatally stabbing himself, before she also committed suicide – reportedly by letting an asp bite her.

Octavian returned to Italy where he became the first Emperor of Rome, while Cleopatra and Anthony were buried in Egypt. 

‘People are upset because Gal Gadot, who isn’t black, is playing Cleopatra, who wasn’t black either,’ Journalist Ian Miles Cheong quipped. 

While Cleopatra was born in ancient Egypt, the identity of her mother, has long been debated.

Cleopatra was said to be ‘ethnically Greek’ and not ‘ethnically Egyptian.’  

‘Cleopatra VII was white — of Macedonian descent, as were all of the Ptolemy rulers, who lived in Egypt, Boston University Professor of Archaeology and Classical Studies Kathryn Bard told Newsweek

The casting nonetheless stirred up negative reactions on Twitter, sparking a debate on the queen’s background. 

‘I’m going to say this once and I’m not going to say it again, Cleopatra was Greek. Yes, she was in Egyptian ruler but she was Greek with Persian and Syrian ancestry. The people who are reacting negatively that to this are uneducated and uninformed. Gal Gadot deserves this role,’ another user said. 

‘Incredibly excited to get the chance to tell the story of Cleopatra, my favorite Ptolemaic Pharoah (sic) and arguably the most famous Macedonian Greek woman in history,’ tweeted Laeta Kalogridis, who will also executive produce the film and is of Greek heritage.

Others accused the backlash against Gadot’s casting of leaning on anti-Semitic tropes with several social media users drawing attention to Gadot’s mandatory service in Israel’s military.

It’s not known how the story of the Queen of Egypt will be tackled in this new retelling of the famous legend. 

The script for the new film is being written by Laeta Kalogridis, who penned the screenplay for 2004’s epic Alexander as well as Leonardo DiCaprio starrer Shutter Island in 2010 and 2015’s Terminator Genisys.  

It’s not surprising that a major Hollywood studio would be willing to embark on such a high profile project and commit to a theatrical release, given that 2017’s Wonder Woman, starring Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins, was the highest-grossing live-action film by a female director. 

Elizabeth Taylor portrayed Cleopatra as a beautiful seductress who had affairs with both Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, in the 1963 film 

In 1963, Elizabeth Taylor portrayed Cleopatra as a beautiful seductress who had affairs with both Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony as she sought to hold onto power as the Roman Empire expanded.

Taylor’s Cleopatra was also hugely successful at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing movie of 1963 with a North America gross of $57.7 million. 

However, it cost $44 million to make and was beset by production delays and scandal, to the point of almost bankrupting 20th Century Fox. 

Gadot noted in Sunday’s interview that her fame had given her a ‘broad reach to people.’ 

‘This is something that I’m not taking for granted and I’m being very responsible about it, so I’m trying to make sure that whatever messages I send out there are authentic to me and are good and are positive. 

Gadot is no stranger to online criticism, having faced widespread mockery in March for spearheading a video montage of celebrities singing ‘Imagine’ from their sprawling homes.

The video, intended to provide hope for those affected by the Covid lockdown, was slammed as being out of touch with the lives of everyday people.


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