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Gal Gadot's casting as Cleopatra spurs debate

Israeli actress Gal Gadot has been cast

 Israeli actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Cleopatra, the famed ruler of ancient Egypt. Credit: Getty Images / Amy Sussman

Following Paramount Pictures' deal to reteam "Wonder Woman" star Gal Gadot and its director, Patty Jenkins, on a biographical drama about Cleopatra, debate has erupted over the casting of the Israeli actress to play the Egyptian ruler.

"As you might have heard I teamed up with @PattyJenks and [screenwriter] @LKalogridis to bring the story of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, to the big screen in a way she's never been seen before. To tell her story for the first time through women's eyes, both behind and in front of the camera," Gadot, 35, wrote on social media Sunday. Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt from 51 BCE to 30 BCE and had a famed relationship with the Roman general Mark Antony. She has been portrayed on-screen by Elizabeth Taylor, Claudette Colbert, Geneviève Bujold and many others.

Gadot added on Instagram, "Cleopatra is a story I wanted to tell for a very long time. Can't be more excited and grateful about this A team!!" Action star Dwayne Johnson commented, "Perfect. Hell yeah sis."

American journalist Sameera Khan responded by tweeting, "Which Hollywood [expletive] thought it would be a good idea to cast an Israeli actress as Cleopatra (a very bland looking one) instead of a stunning Arab actress like Nadine Njeim?"

Khan — who resigned as an American correspondent for the Russian state TV network RT in 2018 following tweets praising that country's genocidal leader Josef Stalin — went on to say, "White libs flipped … out when white actors played MYTHICAL Egyptian gods in 'Gods of Egypt,' but all is well when a WHITE Israeli actress of European descent is cast as Cleopatra."

CNN commentator Dr. Abdul El-Sayed agreed, tweeting "So … there were no Egyptian women to play, um, an *Egyptian* queen?" Khan's comments primarily sparked backlash, however, with many on social media, including Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, noting that Cleopatra's paternal heritage was Macedonian Greek. Few noted that Cleopatra's maternal lineage is uncertain, with no mother definitively named.

New York Times bestselling author Morgan Jerkins, whose book "This Will Be My Undoing" (2018) examined her life as a Black female feminist in America, took a middle ground. "I'm sure Gal Gadot is going to do a wonderful job as Cleopatra," she tweeted. "However … I would love a Cleopatra who's darker than a brown paper bag, because that seems a bit more historically accurate. 'Wasn't Cleopatra Black?' No — not in the way that we think of Blackness in the modern sense. She definitely wasn't Ethiopian. … [Her pharaoh father] Ptolemy had several wives and concubines. Many of those concubines were of Nubian descent."

Jenkins, who directed Gadot in the global hit "Wonder Woman" (2017) and the upcoming "Wonder Woman 1984," has not commented publicly.

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