Gal Gadot 'whitewashing' row sparks Cleopatra history debate

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 15 2020 05:44 AM

LOS ANGELES - News that Israeli actress Gal Gadot will play Cleopatra has prompted Hollywood's latest "whitewashing" row -- and renewed a historical debate over the ancient Queen of Egypt's ancestry.

Gadot, best known for "Wonder Woman," is confirmed to produce and star in a new big-screen epic from Paramount, taking up the role made famous by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 classic "Cleopatra."

The biopic will retell the "story for the first time through women's eyes, both behind and in front of the camera," Gadot said in an IG post.


A post shared by Gal Gadot (@gal_gadot) on

"Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins is on board, as is "Shutter Island" writer Laeta Kalogridis.

But the announcement immediately prompted social media criticism of the white, Israel-born star's casting as an African queen.

"Hollywood has always cast white American actresses as the Queen of the Nile. For once, can't they find an African actress?" tweeted author James Hall.

The furor taps into wider criticism of Hollywood's history of casting white actors in non-white roles on the apparent assumption of higher box office appeal, a practice commonly referred to as "whitewashing."

However, other social media users quickly noted that Cleopatra herself -- a 1st-century BC ruler descended from Alexander the Great's general Ptolemy -- was of Greek heritage, and may have been white.

"Incredibly excited to get the chance to tell the story of Cleopatra, my favorite Ptolemaic Pharoah (sic) and arguably the most famous Macedonian Greek woman in history," tweeted Kalogridis, who will also executive produce the film and is of Greek heritage.

Gadot, who has not commented on the row, retweeted the comment.

Others accused the backlash against Gadot's casting of leaning on anti-Semitic tropes. Several social media users had drawn attention to Gadot's mandatory service in Israel's military.

Gadot is no stranger to online criticism, having faced widespread mockery in March for spearheading a video montage of celebrities singing "Imagine" from their sprawling homes.

The video, intended to provide hope for those affected by the Covid lockdown, was slammed as being out of touch with the lives of everyday people.

Gadot's "Wonder Woman 1984" is due in theaters this December, although some analysts predict its release date could follow multiple other blockbusters in shifting to next year.