Angelina Jolie has been confirmed to play Cleopatra in an upcoming film about the Egyptian queen, sparking heated debate, once again, over whether she is appropriate for the role because of her race.
The part was most famously played by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film “Cleopatra.”
Little attention was paid back then to the race of the central characters. Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowall and Martin Landau, all white, handled the major roles.
Claudette Colbert stared as Cleopatra in the 1934 version of the queen’s life.
Some critics say Jolie is “too white” to play Cleopatra, and the role should be played by an African-American actress, such as Hale Berry or even Zoe Saldana.
Ironically, Halle Berry’s character in Monster’s Ball, for which she won an Oscar, was originally written for a white woman but they cast Halle after she rallied for it. And she did great. So Angelina being white should not matter.
Meanwhile, others insist Cleopatra was Greek in heritage (not African) and therefore could be played legitimately by a Caucasian woman.
The movie is based on the best-selling book, “Cleopatra: A Life” by Stacy Schiff, who supports the decision to cast Angelina as the Egyptian monarch.
But others aren’t so sure. Here is a sampling of comments expressed by observers:
“Honestly, I don’t care how full Angelina Jolie’s lips are, how many African children she adopts, or how bronzed her skin will become for the film, I firmly believe this role should have gone to a black woman.”
“Don’t these [critics] know that Cleopatra VII was from the Ptolemaic dynasty, a royal family of GREEK origin? Why in the world would Hollywood cast a person of African ethnicity to play a Greek woman?”
The Ptolemaic dynasty was entirely Greek, and they typically intermarried with other family members just as the other dynasty’s did.
Beyond the issue of race, Jolie at 5-feet, 7-inches tall, would tower over the real Cleopatra, who also was considered plump and homely.
While few likenesses of her image survive her reign from 51 BC to 30 BC, historians who have studied coins imprinted with her likeness suggest she was plain-looking, short and plump.
“Sadly for those who seek the secret of her personal allure, the more we study Cleopatra’s surviving images, the less certain we may be of her [allegedly gorgeous] looks,” said Susan Walker, a senior curator at the British Museum in London.
Then, again, it’s only a movie. Watch Schiff weigh in on the debate below: