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'Queen Cleopatra' Actor Adele James Addresses Racist Backlash to Her Casting

'Queen Cleopatra'
Adele James in "Queen Cleopatra"

Adele James is addressing a colorism controversy over a Netflix docuseries in which she stars as Cleopatra.

(CNN) — Adele James is addressing a colorism controversy over a Netflix docuseries in which she stars as Cleopatra.

Queen Cleopatra, which is executive produced and narrated by Jada Pinkett Smith, portrays the ruler of Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt as a woman of color.

Egyptian government officials have criticized casting James, who is biracial, in the role. The actress addressed the backlash during a recent appearance on "The Wayne Ayers Podcast."

"Blackwashing isn't a thing, is it?" she said. "I find it sad that people are either so self-loathing or so threatened by Blackness that they feel the need to do that, to separate Egypt from the rest of the continent."

The debate is not new.

Cleopatra has been played by a variety of women, including Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film.

In 2020, there were complaints of "whitewashing" (when white actors are cast to play people of color) with news that Israeli-born actress and Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot had been cast to play Cleopatra in a forthcoming film.

At the crux of the debate among historians has been whether Cleopatra, who hailed from a long line of Macedonian Greeks, would have darker skin because of her African ancestry.

Those who support the belief that she did also point to the fact that Egypt is part of the continent of Africa.

Queen Cleopatra is part of Pinkett Smith's African Queens franchise. In an article posted last month on Netflix's Tudum site, the series' producers addressed the royal's ethnicity.

"Her ethnicity is not the focus of Queen Cleopatra, but we did intentionally decide to depict her of mixed ethnicity to reflect theories about Cleopatra's possible Egyptian ancestry and the multicultural nature of Ancient Egypt," they said.

CNN has reached out to representatives for Netflix and Pinkett Smith for comment.

Queen Cleopatra is streaming now on Netflix.

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