Netflix documentary on Cleopatra sparks backlash internationally over casting

Netflix documentary on Cleopatra sparks backlash internationally over casting
Detractors on TikTok and Twitter are decrying the upcoming documentary, set to premiere on May 10, which features actress Adele James in the role of the queen of Egypt. (Netflix)
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Updated 18 April 2023
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Netflix documentary on Cleopatra sparks backlash internationally over casting

Netflix documentary on Cleopatra sparks backlash internationally over casting

DUBAI: A four-part documentary executive produced by US actress Jada Pinkett Smith for Netflix is coming under fire on social media over its portrayal of Cleopatra by a Black actress.

Detractors on TikTok and Twitter are decrying the upcoming documentary, set to premiere on May 10, which features actress Adele James in the role of the queen of Egypt.

In the trailer for the documentary, one commentator says: “My grandmother said, ‘I don’t care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was black.’” 

Cleopatra VII Philopathor was the ruler of Egypt prior to Roman rule. According to historians, she is a descendant of Ptolemy I Soter, a Macedonian Greek general, who ruled over Egypt when it was part of Alexander the Great’s empire. As noted by historian Sheila L. Ager, director of Hellenistic Studies at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, in a 2005 study, the Ptolemies practiced interbreeding and sibling marriage. Historians also widely agree that Cleopatra spoke Koine Greek as her mother tongue and was the only Ptolemaic leader to learn and regularly use the Egyptian language. 

Cleopatra’s Greek Macedonian background forms the crux of the argument many on social media have been making, with a number of Egyptian, African American and international critics slamming the decision to portray the ruler as of Sub-Saharan origin.  “This is not the Black representation I wanted or needed,” TikTok user Jianna Ewuresi said in a video, adding: “They cast a Black woman to play Queen Cleopatra, the problem is she wasn’t Black.”


@marshmallowmoney this is NOT the black representation i wanted or needed @netflix #cleopatra #cleopatranetflix #jadapinkettsmith #willsmith #blacktok #representationmatters #colorism #blacklivesmatter #blm #blackvoices #blackcharacters #tv #showtok ♬ original sound - Jianna Ewuresi

Other users have slammed the documentary as problematic due to the Macedonians’ role as invaders of Egypt, saying that portraying a Ptolemaic leader as Black is essentially “like if you made a show about India being colonized and King George was depicted as an Indian,” according to TikTok user Aslan Pahari.  

Many on social media offered up other historical figures who could have been played by the actress, including Ahhotep, Hatshepsut and Nefertiti.


@manalmet Again Ahhotep, Hatshepsut &Nefertiti were right there  #egypt #egyptian #jadapinkettsmith #cleopatra #netflix #africanqueens #northafrica #africa #history #ancientegypt #egytiktok #greece #ancientgreece #fyp #greenscreen ♬ original sound - Manal منال

“Everytime something like this happens, we are taking away the opportunity to tell a real Black story from real Black history,” TikTok user Dennis stated.

@dennis.fang My thoughts on the new Cleopatra Netflix documentary. #Cleopatra #AncientEgypt #Netflix #History #BlackHistory ♬ original sound - Dennis

Duane W. Roller, an American archaeologist, author, and professor emeritus of classics, Greek and Latin at the Ohio State University, agreed in a previous post on the subject, published in 2010, saying: “It has been suggested – although generally not by credible scholarly sources – that Cleopatra was racially black African. To be blunt, there is absolutely no evidence for this, yet it is one of those issues that seems to take on a life of its own despite all indication to the contrary.”

However, the team behind the Netflix documentary is moving forward with the series. 

“We don’t often get to see or hear stories about Black queens,” Smith, who is married to Oscar-winner Will Smith, shared in a statement. “And that was really important for me, as well as for my daughter, and just for my community to be able to know those stories because there are tons of them!”

“Cleopatra is a queen who many know about, but not in her truth,” Smith added. “She’s been displayed as overtly sexual, excessive, and corrupt, yet she was a strategist, an intellect, a commanding force of nature, who fought to protect her kingdom… and her heritage is highly debated. This season will dive deeper into her history and re-assesses this fascinating part of her story.”


Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London

Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London
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Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London

Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London

DUBAI: Omani label Atelier Zuhra showcased its Fall/Winter 2024 collection in London this week, delivering a showcase of glamour and style. 

Designer Rayan Al-Sulaimani, who is based in Dubai, put on a show for guests gathered at Cafe Royal in London with a runway showcasing glittering evening gowns infused with a hefty dose of drama. Voluminous capes, satin hoods, and feathered ensembles took center stage. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by FARHANA (@farhanabodi)

The color palette was varied and ranged from light hues — such as white, pink, silver and beige — to deeper tones like navy blue, emerald green, maroon and black. 

The designs stood out for the incorporation of crystals, intricate pearl work, beading, feathers, and luxurious fabrics. These elements reflected the opulence of the chandelier-filled hall where the runway presentation unfolded.

Voluminous capes, satin hoods, and feathered ensembles took center stage. (Getty Images)

The dresses were crafted from a variety of fabrics including tulle, satin, chiffon, velvet and organza. 

Netflix’s “Dubai Bling” star Farhana Bodi walked the runway. She graced the catwalk in a metallic pink form-fitting gown complemented by a satin hood trailing from the shoulders of the dress.

She shared the clip of her walking the runway on Instagram and wrote: “Your SHOWSTOPPER Bling Girl at the London Fashion Week (sic).” 

Chanel Ayan wore a black sequined gown featuring a halter neckline. (Getty Images)

She was also joined by “The Real Housewives of Dubai” star Chanel Ayan, who was dressed in a black sequined gown featuring a halter neckline. Completing her ensemble was a pink satin abaya-inspired coverup. 

Atelier Zuhra CEO and head designer Al-Sulaimani’s mother Mouza Al-Awfi founded the couture house in Dubai in 2015.  

“My ambition for the future is for the brand to be well recognized internationally. Over the next five years I hope to have Atelier Zuhra established in Europe – either in London or Paris,” Al-Sulaimani previously told Arab News.

The Omani label has dressed a number of international celebrities. US superstar Beyonce, US music sensation Mariah Carey, US socialite Paris Hilton, US singer Nicole Scherzinger, British supermodel Naomi Campbell and Saudi star Dalia Mubarak, who is signed with US record label Warner Recorded Music, have all been spotted in the brand’s creations.  


Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn

Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn
Updated 20 February 2024
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Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn

Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn

RIYADH: In his 2016 memoir, “A Life in Questions,” Jeremy Paxman, the prominent British journalist and presenter, outlines how he has been inquisitive his entire life.

The autobiography uncovers Paxman’s early years, interviews with prominent figures, insights into journalistic integrity, political engagement, and the power of asking the right questions.

Paxman takes a humorous approach in recounting past experiences, notably an incident involving Marks & Spencer underwear. He described an occasion when he put his leg through his briefs, causing the elastic to detach from the cotton.

Paxman asked the other people in the gym: “Any of you blokes had any trouble with pants?" His concerns about the quality sparked a media frenzy, resulting in an abundance of underwear being sent to him, even from strangers.

The book showcases Paxman’s recollections over four decades of journalism. However, when considering his interviews, I hoped for more insights into his technique and style. Renowned for his unconventional approach, his interviews often left interviewees feeling unsettled or nervous, as if they were “quaking in their boots.”

At times, the narrative becomes monotonous, particularly in sections where Paxman delves into less compelling aspects of his career, making the reading experience somewhat laborious.

However, Paxman’s recounting of iconic interviews and behind-the-scenes anecdotes kept me from looking away. A notable interview showing his commitment to getting answers, which was widely praised, took place in May 1997, where Paxman questioned former Home Secretary Michael Howard a total of 12 times about his potential overruling of the head of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis.

The writing style can feel a bit disconnected, shifting between different times in Paxman’s life with abrupt transitions. This might make it a little harder to follow his story. Paxman’s memoir might be more relatable to those familiar with the UK’s political and cultural scene, as it assumes a certain level of knowledge about the figures and events discussed.

Learning from Paxman’s methods can help journalists develop their own style and ensure that they can engage with and extract valuable information from interviewees.

Overall, “A Life in Questions” is recommended for those fascinated by unconventional interviewing styles. It not only tells stories but also acts as a guide for journalists seeking to enhance their interviewing skills.


Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot

Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot
Updated 20 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot

Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla is adding a music recording studio to its production lot in June.

Film AlUla’s current production facility includes a 30,000-square-foot soundstage, backlot, production support buildings, workshops, warehouses, recording studio and training and rehearsal space.

AlUla is also home to the mirrored Maraya concert hall, a multi-purpose venue that plays host to international concerts.

The film commission will inaugurate a recording studio with audio and recording equipment comprising a control room and two soundproof booths that can be used by individual artists, choirs, rehearsals for film score production, music videos and orchestral work, Variety magazine reported.

Film AlUla’s Executive Director Charlene Deleon-Jones commented on the upcoming opening, saying: “Following the successful launch of our film studios last year, we are continuing to strategically expand the complex and become a one-stop destination for creatives, with the recording studio being a natural next step in this vision.

“We are delighted to welcome artists starting from June whom we have no doubt will be inspired by the magnificent surroundings and heritage that AlUla has to offer while making the most of our cutting-edge facilities to create magic,” she added, according to Variety magazine.

Previous Hollywood productions shot in AlUla include the Gerard Butler-led action-thriller “Kandahar,” directed by Ric Roman Waugh, and “Cherry,” starring Tom Holland and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.

The news comes after December’s Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah saw global media company Stampede Ventures announce further films in its 10-movie partnership with Film AlUla.

Hollywood movies “Fourth Wall” and “Chasing Red” are set to be filmed in AlUla in 2024 as part of a 10-project deal between Film AlUla and Stampede Ventures, in addition to the previously announced feature “K-Pops!”

There will be emphasis on using Saudi talent during the production process, Deleon-Jones told Arab News at the time, adding: “One of the most significant parts of what we’re doing is the training and development, because this gives us an opportunity to really develop below-the-line crew in somewhere like AlUla, where traditionally the main careers open to you would have been agriculture. We have a young working population who are vibrant and digitally engaged somewhere which is seen as one of the more remote places, (and now) you have this whole new exciting career path.”


First film announced as Saudi Arabia launches Big Time Investment to fund Arab productions 

First film announced as Saudi Arabia launches Big Time Investment to fund Arab productions 
Updated 20 February 2024
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First film announced as Saudi Arabia launches Big Time Investment to fund Arab productions 

First film announced as Saudi Arabia launches Big Time Investment to fund Arab productions 

DUBAI: Egyptian actress Mona Zaki is set to star in a film portraying the life of legendary singer Umm Kulthum, which is the first film in a slate of productions as Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority announced the launch of a film fund named Big Time Investment, aimed at fostering the production of Arabic cinema.

The inaugural project under this initiative will be a biopic celebrating the life of Egyptian legend Umm Kulthum, who was referred to as “The fourth pyramid” by Arabs, as well as “The star of the East,” “Mother of the Arabs” and “Lady of Arabic Song.” 

Egyptian filmmaker Marwan Hamed has been tapped to direct the film titled “El Set,” with acclaimed Egyptian actress Mona Zaki set to portray Umm Kulthum.

The announcement regarding the fund took place in Cairo, where Turki Al-Sheikh, the chairman of the GEA, disclosed that the authority would serve as the main sponsor of the approximately $130 million fund. 

The Ministry of Culture will act as a co-sponsor, as reported by the Saudi Press Agency. Several  Saudi companies will also contribute to the fund, including Sela Studio, SMC Company, Rotana Audio Visual Co., and Benchmark Company.

The fund aims to germinate roughly 20 Arabic titles a year.


Model Nora Attal shows off winter fashion on the Burberry runway

Model Nora Attal shows off winter fashion on the Burberry runway
Updated 20 February 2024
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Model Nora Attal shows off winter fashion on the Burberry runway

Model Nora Attal shows off winter fashion on the Burberry runway

DUBAI: British Moroccan model Nora Attal made an appearance at London Fashion Week, after hitting the runway in Paris and New York in recent weeks.

Attal walked in British luxury label Burberry’s Fall/Winter 2024 show.

The fashion house’s creative director Daniel Lee this week showed his third brief at London Fashion Week, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, with an ode to the brand’s outdoor heritage.

The 24-year-old model strutted down the star-studded catwalk in a cream-colored calf-length coat. (Getty Images)

Set in a dark marquee in London’s Victoria Park where guests sat on big fluffy brown cushions, songs from late British singer Amy Winehouse set the mood for the night.

The 24-year-old model strutted down the star-studded catwalk in a cream-colored calf-length coat, accentuated with luxurious fur-like detailing on the knees, arms and neckline.

Attal hit the grass runway in an ensemble that was accented with black chunky-soled leather boots and a matching clutch.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Burberry (@burberry)

Other models paraded leather and faux-fur coats in shades of muted green and brown, oversized stripy suit jackets and trousers with zipper detailing.

The show heavily featured outerwear and sporty silhouettes with bomber jackets and Burberry’s iconic trench coat that sat alongside flowy beaded and velvet dresses.

Burberry’s famous beige, black and red check was reimagined into a moody autumnal color palette and featured on the inside of floor-sweeping skirts with long slits down the side.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Burberry (@burberry)

Accessories included checked umbrellas, large canvas, leather and faux-fur bags in cream, brown and green — often adorned with gold detailing — and paired with scarves worn over the head.

British models Naomi Campbell, Agyness Deyn and Lily Cole were among those sashaying on the catwalk.

Saudi film producer and CEO of the Red Sea Film Foundation Mohammed Al-Turki attended the show. (Getty Images)

The show was attended by Saudi film producer and CEO of the Red Sea Film Foundation Mohammed Al-Turki, actress Olivia Coleman, model Jourdan Dunn and Irish actor Barry Keoghan among others.

This is not the first time Attal has modelled for Burberry. In September 2023, she wore low-waist tailored pants, a cropped printed blouse and a blazer with fur detailing around the sleeves from the brand’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection that was also showcased at London Fashion Week.  

Earlier this year, Attal walked the Chanel and Fendi shows during Paris Haute Couture Week.