Egypt jurists seek $2bn 'in compensation' from Netflix over Queen Cleopatra race controversy

Egypt jurists seek $2bn 'in compensation' from Netflix over Queen Cleopatra race controversy
2 min read
02 June, 2023
Netflix's docudrama Queen Cleopatra depicted the Ptolemaic queen as a black African woman, causing much controversy in Egypt. Now a team of jurists want to sue Netflix for $2 billion in compensation.
Egyptian lawyers are demanding a compensation of $2 billion from Netflix for 'distorting the Egyptian identity' [Getty] 

A team of Egyptian jurists and archaeologists are demanding financial compensation of $2bn US dollars from Netflix for their depiction of Cleopatra VII as black in their docudrama Queen Cleopatra.

A letter submitted by the team to UNESCO on Monday states that Egypt has the right to an initial compensation of $2 billion from Netflix for “distorting the Egyptian identity”. 

The letter also says that Egypt has the right to take legal action to “preserve the tangible and intangible Egyptian heritage, whether ancient or modern”. 

UNESCO has yet to reply to the demands made by the team. 

The show has caused huge - and at times hysterical - backlash from prominent figures within Egypt, including the government or those linked to it.

In late April, the ministry for antiquities weighed in on the debate telling Netflix that Cleopatra had "white skin and Hellenistic characteristics".

Last weekend, the attorney to the Minister for Culture Essam Khalaf issued a complaint with Egypt’s prosecutor-general against Netflix, calling for the show to be permanently taken down.

He issued several complaints against the streaming giant, including a particularly incoherent one that accused the show’s producers of not obtaining a permit to merely depict archaeological features that exist in Egypt. 

In April, before the docudrama had even aired on Netflix, the lawyer Mahmoud El-Semary filed a complaint with the prosecutor-general calling for the California-based streaming service to be shut down in Egypt due to the show.

El-Semary claimed that Netflix was “attempting to erase the Egyptian identity” by “promoting Afrocentrism”.

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Cleopatra VII belonged to the ethnically Greek Ptolemaic dynasty. Many Egyptian nationalists prior to the 1950s did not consider her or any of her kin to be true pharaohs, with Nectanebo II considered the last native ruler of dynastic Egypt.

The ethnicity of Cleopatra VII is not known.  Despite the controversy generated by some Egyptians, many experts consider her depiction by the black actress Adele James as falling well within the scope of historical possibility.

The identity of the queen's mother is unknown, with some historians believing that she may have been a black Egyptian.