Following this week’s announcement that the Israeli actress Gal Gadot will play ancient Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra in a new movie, social media erupted in a bitter battle between advocates for greater diversity in film, and opponents of what is perceived as political correctness gone mad.
Critics contend that a person of color should have been cast as Cleopatra: an African, Arab or mixed-heritage actress should have been given the part – but not Gadot, a Jew of Eastern European descent. The pro-Gadot camp countered that Cleopatra herself was apparently a white woman of Greek or Macedonian descent and that historical records show Arabs only reached Egypt centuries after Cleopatra’s death. The first century B.C.E. queen was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, distant descendants of Ptolemy, the general who ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great’s conquest of the country.