Cleopatra: Gal Gadot’s film announcement sparks ‘whitewashing’ accusations

Gal Gadot's new film about ancient Egyptian ruler Cleopatra is already facing criticism before filming is even under way, with accusations of "whitewashing" the role.

The Israeli actress will star in the biopic, which will see her reunited with her Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins.

Gadot, who has been ranked as one of the world's highest-paid actresses, came up with the idea for the film, according to US entertainment site Deadline.

The announcement on Sunday sparked a debate on social media, with many users questioning why the Queen of the Nile role has not gone to an African or Arab actress. It is the latest example in a growing debate on whitewashing – when white actors portray non-white roles – on screen.

Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. Pic: 20th Century Fox

Image:Elizabeth Taylor starred as Cleopatra in 1963. Pic: 20th Century Fox

Writer and broadcaster James Hall, an expert on Africa, wrote on Twitter: "Hollywood has always cast white American actresses as the Queen of the Nile. For once, can't they find an African actress?"

Another Twitter user said: "So… there were no Egyptian women to play, um, an Egyptian queen?"

Cleopatra was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 69BC, descended from the Ancient Greek Ptolemy dynasty. The role was famously played by Elizabeth Taylor in 1963, alongside Richard Burton as Mark Antony.

In a reply to Hall, one Twitter user said: "On the big nationality problem of Cleopatra: YES queen cleopatra has greek heritage but that doesn't make her any less of an egyptian, she's one of the few queens that reigned ancient egypt which makes her one of the most important leaders in ancient egypt (our history)."

While the actress has not addressed the accusations, she has spoken publicly about another controversy – her much ridiculed celebrity-filled cover of John Lennon's Imagine, which went viral for all the wrong reasons towards the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown.

Asked about the video in a cover interview for Vanity Fair, the actress said: "Sometimes, you know, you try and do a good deed and it's just not the right good deed.

"I had nothing but good intentions and it came from the best place, and I just wanted to send light and love to the world."

She added: "I can only say that I meant to do something good and pure, and it didn't transcend."

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