The topic of cultural appropriation in Hollywood is extremely tricky. Tinseltown has a pretty terrible history of whitewashing roles in historical films that dates back to the earliest films. Remember when John Wayne played Genghis Khan? Or if they needed someone to play a Mexican character in the film, they'd just cast a Jewish guy? What about Ricardo Montalban being passed off as Japanese? Well, now people are asking if Cleopatra was white after Gal Gadot was cast as the Egyptian Queen.
Was Cleopatra white?
Modern-day Egypt is usually conflated with the Middle East due to the fact that the primary language, both written and spoken, is Arabic. A lot of that has to do with the Islamic conquest of Egypt by the Arabs between 639 and 646 AD, which is around the time Islam first began as a religious and socio-political movement.
The Egyptian Empire was absolutely massive and although the nation is located in North Africa, many of its primary rulers were of Mediterranean descent.
Alexander the Great was Macedonian, as was Cleopatra, who traced her roots back to Greece and Ptolemy I Soter. However, what made Cleopatra such a beloved leader was that she adopted ancient Egyptian customs, and was the first member of the Ptolemic line to actually speak Egyptian. Proving that cultural appropriation has pretty much been around since forever.
A tweet from Sameera Khan speaks to the ire of Gal Gadot's casting as Cleopatra.
Again, because Arab-Islamic influence has presided in Egypt for so long, the fact that Gal Gadot is teaming up with Patty Jenkins to portray the Queen of the Nile is irking a lot of people because of the fact that Gal's Israeli.
It brought up the topic of cultural appropriation, of course, with a lot of people calling for either brown or Black actresses to take up the role.
There was also a chorus of individuals who believed that there are a ton of ethnically Arab actresses who could've been cast as Cleopatra so the role could've been more historically accurate. Predictably, there were opposing voices who focused on the fact that was an issue of skin color and that Cleopatra was more than likely fairer skinned than many of her African subjects of the time period.
For many, the outcry is rooted in the fact that an Israeli woman is portraying an iconic Egyptian and since Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, there's that built in Jewish-Muslim rivalry that's centuries old. But if this is a case of "cultural appropriation" then technically, Arab Muslims really don't have any right to "appropriate" Cleopatra as one of their own.
She was not Middle Eastern, even though she was depicted as such. Nor was she a monotheist. In fact, she embraced a culture that was vilified in both the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Talmud, and the Quran. So if someone is trying to argue Gal's casting on a cultural, ethnic, or religious level, there's been a lot of cultural appropriation of Cleopatra going on for a very long time.
Ethnically speaking, Egypt is one of the most diverse countries in North Africa, especially compared to other nations in the Middle East. In addition to large racial demographics from its home continent, there's been a lot of Turkish, Balkan, Greek, and French influences in the area over the years, but in terms of culture and population.
For many folks though, they felt that casting Gal Gadot was "tone deaf" in the grand geo-political scheme of things. What do you think?