NEW YORK – Controversy has erupted over the casting of Israeli actress Gal Gadot, 35, best known for playing Wonder Woman in recent films based on the DC comics heroine, as Cleopatra in the latest film incarnation of the Egyptian ruler’s story.
Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins will direct the Cleopatra film which was written by Greek-American screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis whose grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Kalymnos in the early 20th century.
“The controversy shows a misunderstanding of history and an unfortunate persistence of racialized thinking that denies humanity its rich multicultural heritage,” NBC News reported in an opinion article by Iranian author Arash Azizi.
“Claims that the casting was another example of ‘whitewashing’ had an amusing side to them, since no one seemed to agree on what exactly the acceptable ethnic origin for the actress playing Cleopatra is: North African, African, Arab and Egyptian were suggested,” Azizi writes, “In other words, anybody from the region except Jewish Israelis.”
Azizi continues, “When Cleopatra was born in 69 BC, her birthplace of Alexandria was the capital of Egypt’s Ptolemaic Kingdom. Though located on the southern side of the Mediterranean, the ruling monarchy was rather conscious of its Greek origins and wanted to maintain that cultural status; intermarriage with the native Egyptians was forbidden in Alexandria and other cities, although this wasn’t always observed.”
“The kingdom was part of the effervescent Hellenistic Eastern Mediterranean in which Cleopatra’s mother tongue, Koine Greek (the standardized dialect of Athens), was the lingua franca for the exchange of goods and ideas,” Azizi pointed out, NBC News reported.
“Though the iconic ruler was born in Egypt, she was ‘ethnically Greek’ and not ‘ethnically Egyptian,’ according to Smithsonian Magazine and History — formerly known as The History Channel,” the New York Daily News reported, adding that “Cleopatra ‘traced her family origins to Macedonian Greece and Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander the Great’s generals,’ and was the first in her line to learn the Egyptian language, having ‘embraced many of her country’s ancient customs.’”
Gadot posted on Twitter, “As you might have heard I teamed up with @PattyJenks and @LKalogridis 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.”
Actor and Amnesty UK Ambassador Nazanin Boniadi defended Gadot’s casting, writing, “Cleopatra was ethnically Macedonian Greek” and called for people to “stop shaming @GalGadot and dividing people based on falsities. Reserve your outrage for world issues that urgently need our attention,” the Daily News reported.