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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Cleopatra

Oh, fer chrissakes.

Angelina Jolie really, really wants to star in a Cleopatra movie. A fool named ReBecca Theodore-Vachon is upset because Angelina Jolie is white and everyone knows that Cleopatra was black.
Most of the story is set in Egypt, and most of the characters are Egyptians, but Hollywood's go-to casting template has almost always been White—the campiest example being 1963's "Cleopatra," which starred Elizabeth Taylor, an England-born Caucasian woman, as the Queen of the Nile.
I hated Taylor in that movie, but not because of her skin color.

Look: Once upon a time, there was a fellow named Alexander the Great. You may have heard of him. He was Macedonian, which is to say Greek, which is to say white. He set out to conquer the world, and he actually succeeded in grabbing huge chunks of it, including Egypt.

Alexander installed a Greek family on the throne of Egypt, a family known as the Ptolemy dynasty. They eventually produced the woman we know as Cleopatra -- technically, Cleopatra VII Philopater. (The Louvre's bust of Cleo's ancestor, Soter I, is reproduced to your right.)

Lots of incestuous marriage in that clan -- brothers marrying sisters. The Ptolemys made a serious effort to keep non-Greek genes from entering their gene pool.

Now, I'm all for giving more work to black actresses. I'd also love to see a lot more black people direct films and write films and greenlight films and run studios and so forth. But history is history: Cleopatra was not of African heritage. She was Greek.

She was also a really horrible person. Even the Liz Taylor version of the story can't hide that dismaying truth. That film is a chore to watch precisely because the audience has nobody to root for, nobody to like. (For this reason, I predict that audiences won't flock to the Angelina Jolie rendition.)

For many years, black people have tried to claim two historical figures as their own: Jesus and Cleopatra. Jesus I understand. Although I personally don't think that he was black -- he probably looked more like a modern Palestinian Arab -- I can comprehend why one would seek to count him as a member of the family.

But Cleo? She was despicable. Scheming, murderous, narcissistic, arrogant, greedy -- and in the end, a failure. She was a white European tyrant who oppressed a lot of darker-skinned Africans. Why would anyone want her?
Comments:
That reminds me of one of my favorite bits of random, little-known information:

Cleapatra lived closer in time to the Space Shuttle than to the building of the pyramids.
 
You know, Jolie is quite attractive. For that reason she probably isn't suitable to play Cleopatra, who is now widely believed to have been plain, if alluring.

Of course, no possible version can hold a candle to the masterpiece, Carry On Cleo, the only film about Cleopatra one needs to see.

Ethnically Jolie is fine. A bit of Kohl around the eyes, perhaps. Wig. She'll do.

 
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