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Gal Gadot’s “White-Washed” Cleopatra Sparks Controversy

It seems that the war for film diversity continues to burn in the hearts of many. When Israeli actress Gal Gadot announced that she would be starring in Paramount’s Cleopatra, playing the infamous queen, the internet expectedly blew up in a controversial debate regarding Gadot’s qualifications to play the role. 

Gal Gadot as Cleopatra in new movie about Egyptian queen is causing  misplaced outrage
Gal Gadot | Photo Courtesy of NBC News

“As you might have heard I teamed up with @PattyJenks [director Patty Jenkins] and @LKalogridis [screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis] to bring the story of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, to the big screen in a way she’s never been seen before. To tell her story for the first time through women’s eyes, both behind and in front of the camera,” Gal Gadot said on Twitter on Oct. 11th.

People subsequently ranted, surprisingly, about Hollywood white-washing, despite Gadot being ethnically Israeli with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. 

“I’m sure Gal Gadot is going to do a wonderful job as Cleopatra. However, for me personally, I would love a Cleopatra who’s darker than a brown paper bag, because that seems a bit more historically accurate,” NYT bestselling author Morgan Jenkins said.

Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra in Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) | Cleopatra, Vivien  leigh, Caesar and cleopatra
Vivien Leigh in Cleopatra (1945) | Photo Courtesy of Pinterest

However, the film industry has had a long-standing history of whitewashing the ancient queen of Egypt. Actresses including Elizabeth Taylor,  Hildegard Neil, Claudette Colbert, and Vivien Leigh were all white actresses who have played Cleopatra in a western feature film. Although several of these renditions were made in the mid twentieth century when racism was rampant in America, they are sourly looked upon with the liberal eyes of today. Gadot is also starring in another film that is also being criticized for its diversity. The upcoming Murder on the Nile, a murder mystery that takes place in Egypt, is receiving backlash for its lack of any North African actors in its cast. 

Predicted reconstruction of Cleopatra | Photo Courtesy of Realm of History

Angry Twitter users claim that Gal Gadot is robbing a role from a more “historically correct” Egyptian actress. However, evidence suggests Cleopatra may not have had any Egyptian blood at all.  Her father, Ptolemy XII, descended from Ptolemy I Soter, a general under Alexander the Great from Macedonia. Although the origins of Cleopatra’s mother are still debated, Cleopatra had at least 50% percent “white” blood. 

However, there are many others who support casting Gadot in the role, including her home country Israel.

“One icon playing another! Excited for this new take on Cleopatra!” Israel’s embassy in Washington D.C. said in a Tweet.

As the war for diversity in films rages on, new releases are targeted and taken down by critics. However, Cleopatra still has hope. And perhaps, Cleopatra may be able to steer the wheel off the course of white-washing and onto a more historically correct destination. 

About Abigail Liu

Abigail Liu
Abigail Liu is a staff writer for the MC Sun. She is on the school's varsity tennis team and she loves Star Wars movies. In her free time, she can be found in her natural habitat, hunched over a computer, typing away.

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