Angelina Jolie and Lady Gaga are rumored to be contenders to play the queen in a new biopic.
By Nadra Nittle Jan 14, 2019, 6:20pm EST
Since meaty roles for women are still too few in Hollywood, landing the character could be the chance of a lifetime for any actress. But the Twitter debate about Cleopatra isn’t so much about which actress most resembles the ancient queen as whether a white woman should be playing her at all.
Historically, white actresses such as Claudette Colbert, Vivien Leigh, and, most famously, Elizabeth Taylor have portrayed Cleopatra. The thinking during Hollywood’s Golden Age seemed to be that kohl eyeliner and a black wig was all it took to transform any white woman into the Queen of the Nile.
… but the long history of shutting out actresses of color from contention has proven offensive to people of color who believe the queen was not white.
… Historians have long described Cleopatra as ethnically Greek, but during the past decade, that assumption has increasingly been called into question. …
Today, people who consider Cleopatra to be a woman of color have suggested performers as diverse as Jennifer Lopez, Priyanka Chopra, and Rihanna play the Egyptian ruler. …
So it’s disconcerting to see white women like Jolie and Gaga named as the sole contenders for the role, even if their participation in the project is just a rumor for now — especially given all of the discussions that have taken place about Hollywood’s whitewashing of history, be it in newer films like Gods of Egypt, Exodus, or The Prince of Persia, or in classics like Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra.
There really are a lot of people out there reading Vox who sincerely believe: “If Rihanna gets cast as Cleopatra, my life will be better.”