Queen Cleopatra Netflix Docudrama: More drama than documentary
When Netflix revealed the trailer of the second season of African Queens a month ago, it received a huge backlash for its portrayal of Egyptian queen Cleopatra.
The casting choice was iconoclastic; instead of a conventional white actress to play the role of Cleopatra, African-British actress Adele James was set to portray her. Amidst this controversy, the docudrama Queen Cleopatra was released on May 10, shadowing the casting controversy, it failed to balance between documentary and drama.
Although the general audience didn't like the idea of a black actress portraying Cleopatra, how Cleopatra really looked is a highly debated topic.
Cleopatra's ancestry is traced back to Ptolemy I, a Macedonian bodyguard of Alexander the Great and the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Then the next eight generations till Cleopatra are unclear, so historians aren't sure about Cleopatra's real ancestry. Elizabeth Taylor's portrayal of her in 1963 was memorable, so the audience just wanted to see another white actress play the Cleopatra role.
In the previous portrayals of Cleopatra, she was only depicted as a highly romanticized character and a love interest of Roman generals Mark Antony and Julius Caesar.
But in this docudrama, she is not only a lover but also a clever, strategic and determined leader. Hereditarily, she was to lead Egypt alongside her brother Ptolemy XIII.
She thwarted his assassination plan, won a civil war against him, exacted revenge against her own sister Arsinoe for plotting and secured the future of Egypt as a Roman client state. This docudrama showed Cleopatra's leadership ability with constructive commentaries from history experts.
The unique thing about African Queens: Queen Cleopatra is that it tried to combine historical accounts with drama reenactments. Historians comment on Cleopetra's life and reign, while actress James reenacts these events through her acting. This show would've been a great historical drama, but executive producer Jada Pinkett Smith chose to narrate the scenarios, and historians analyze them.
Jada tried her best, but she isn't a great narrator who can captivate the audience. Moreover, the historians' commentaries continuously abrupted the flow of drama, which can be annoying for the viewers.
In conclusion, Queen Cleopatra isn't the ideal docudrama to learn about the popular Egyptian queen for history novices. Admixing drama with historical accounts doesn't go well if there isn't proper direction.
The show tried to outlive the casting choice controversy but still couldn't portray itself as the best depiction of Cleopatra.