Here’s why Gal Gadot is receiving criticism for her planned Cleopatra film

Wednesday, 14th October 2020, 3:49 pm

The casting of Israeli actress Gal Gadot as Egyptian ruler Cleopatra has drawn criticism, with some accusing the film’s producers of “whitewashing.”

The film is yet to begin production, but there have already been calls to boycott it.

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What is whitewashing?

In recent years, the term ‘whitewashing’ has come to be used to signify the casting of white actors - or at least actors not of same the ethnic background as the character they are playing - in non-white roles.

It’s particularly pertinent when applied to the casting of historical black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) figures, with critics suggesting the casting of white actors may be an attempt to make a film seem more palatable to a wider audience.

In the case of Gadot’s upcoming film, the belief among many commenters is that the part of an African queen should have gone to an African actress. This would have provided a high profile role to somebody who would otherwise have been overlooked by Hollywood.

Cleopatra ruled Egypt for 21 years between 51 and 30 BC, and although she was of Macedonian Greek heritage, is considered Egyptian in nationality by historians. Gadot was born and raised in Israel.

James Hall, a writer and broadcaster and 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?"

"So… there were no Egyptian women to play, um, an Egyptian queen?" Asked another Twitter user.

What will the film be like?

(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

The new Cleopatra biopic was reportedly Gadot's own idea, and comes with a script written by Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island), based on research completed after Gadot signed her up for the project.

It will see Gadot reunite with Wonder Woman director, Patty Jenkins, and although there is no word of any release date yet, Deadline reports that Paramount Pictures wants to “mount a big budget theatrical release film as quickly as possible.”

"It is somehow heartening to see a theatrical release studio step up for an epic project, at a time when most of these big package deals have lately been won by the streamers,” the studio says.

No doubt the plot - which is being shaped by Gadot, Jenkins and Kalogridis, as well as producers Charles Roven and Jaron Varsano - will have all the makings of a big female empowerment story, told by women.

Gadot and Jenkins' latest film is Wonder Woman 1984, the sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman.

That film recently had its release date pushed back to Christmas Day 2020 (it was originally scheduled to launch earlier in 2020) due to the uncertainty of opening a major film in cinemas in the time of coronavirus.

Cleopatra in Hollywood

The most famous big screen adaptation of Cleopatra came in 1963.

It starred English-American actress Elizabeth Taylor as the queen, and was the most expensive film ever produced at the time.

Despite its success (the film won four of the nine Oscars for which it was nominated and was a big hit at the box office), it nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox.

It remains to be seen whether Gadot’s film will spell similar financial trouble for Paramount Pictures, who is reported to have outbid Universal, Warner Bros, Netflix, and Apple for rights to the film via a Zoom call.

A similar film is reportedly in the works at Sony Pictures, where an adaptation of American essayist Stacy Schiff’s biography of Cleopatra has been in “development hell” for years.

At one time, Angelina Jolie was attached to the film, and Lady Gaga was later rumoured for the lead role, following her Oscar-nominated performance in A Star Is Born.

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, the Yorkshire Evening Post