I wrote about the Queen of the Nile a while ago when Thandie Newton was photographed in the Egyptian Queen’s likeness but now, Angelina Jolie will be playing the part in a new film. The black community is upset over Hollywood’s choice to fill the shoes of yet another Cleopatra with a white woman. Essence.com ran a piece saying, (I’m paraphrasing) that they didn’t care how ethnic Jolie looks, she shouldn’t be playing the African queen. While they have a point, I have mixed feelings about this issue because well, no one knows what Cleopatra looked like. What we do know:
- She spoke Greek and was the first Queen to actually learn Egyptian
- She was Grecian from the Ptolemy dynasty
- She was an African queen– referring to the geographical location of Egypt not necessarily her heritage
- She was widely regarded as being beautiful
The larger issue, and rather most important one, is the fact that when in doubt, Hollywood always chooses white. The definition of “black” in this country means you have one drop of black blood meaning black Americans can be so light they can pass for white or quite literally black- like the color. So, even if Hollywood really does want to maintain the image of Cleopatra being more white, then they could chose an ethnically ambiguous/light-skinned/light-eyed/whatever black actress and it would still work.
But they won’t. I’m sure no one else was even called in for the role. That’s what people don’t get. At Angelina Jolie’s level she doesn’t have to audition- people are begging her to take a role.
I was reading US Weekly’s comment section about the issue and was alarmed by how things always revert to racist ideology. One commenter said that if Cleopatra was played by a black actress then everyone in the movie would be black and the only people who would go see the film would be black people. Sorry but I hardly think another Cleopatra movie could be, in the least, compared to a Tyler Perry flick.
I’d like to see Hollywood evolve to the point where having a leading black actor doesn’t classify the film as being a “black Film.” And maybe that means that we, as consumers, should stop spending our money watching the films that are so painfully apparently marketed directly to us. I mean damn, can we get some quality films that just happen to have black actors in the leading roles? Can we get a romantic comedy with Jurnee Smollett? Is there really only room for her in a guest role on Grey’s Anatomy or in a film with all other black actors? Why is our entertainment so segregated?
Having a white actress play Cleopatra reinforces the ideology of what physical traits are ideal. And I get it: White, especially when its packaged with ethnic features like Jolie. But I beg to differ:
So, we want things to change? Stop buying into entertainment that puts us in a box. Stop subscribing to images that tell us who we are and seriously, stop applauding for something just because a black person did it. Maybe Hollywood would understand, for the last time, that we aren’t monolithic, are educated, well-versed and well-read and do love to get lost in an amazing film as much as the next person.
Angelina Jolie as Cleopatra is a battle we will lose, but if they try to cast Taylor Lautner as President Obama in 20 years, then we can riot.