Netflix Cleopatra Documentary Threatened With Billion-Dollar Lawsuit

Netflix is caught up in a $2 billion lawsuit for its portrayal of Egypt in the Cleopatra documentary.

By Jessica Goudreault | Updated

netflix cleopatra

Netflix recently released its Queen Cleopatra documentary starring Adele James as Cleopatra and Jada Pinkett Smith as the narrator and the producer. The streaming service would have been much better off releasing the limited TV series as a fictional story rather than a documentary, because now they’re getting slammed with all sorts of lawsuits from angry Egyptians. According to the Egyptian Independent, jurists and archeologists are threatening Netflix with a $2 billion lawsuit for wrongly portraying Queen Cleopatra and the ancient Egyptian civilization.

In the documentary, Cleopatra is played by an African American woman, so her skin is much darker than her supposed burgundy-colored skin was in real life. This representation implies that the Egyptian civilization comes from a black origin, which historians claim is untrue. This sparked an uproar in Egypt which led to the $2 billion lawsuit against Netflix.

The docudrama Queen Cleopatra was released on Netflix on May 20, 2023. The four-episode documentary chronicles the life of pharaoh Cleopatra who ruled Egypt for 21 years (from 51 BC and 30 BC) before taking her own life by choosing to be bitten by a venomous snake. Her fascinating story has been captivating historians and the general public for thousands of years, sparking many books, plays, and documentaries.

In addition to the $2 billion lawsuit, a legal adviser and attorney of the Culture Minister of Egypt as well as an Egyptian lawyer have gone to the Public Prosecution to try and have the Queen Cleopatra documentary removed from Netflix. The attorney claimed that Netflix did not obtain the right approvals or permits in order to create an accurate portrayal of the Egyptian culture. According to him, the streaming company should have allowed the Antiquities and Culture ministries to review their artistic idea for the documentary to ensure that Cleopatra and the Egyptian culture would be rightfully portrayed.

netflix cleopatra

After less than a month of streaming on Netflix, Queen Cleopatra has gotten terrible reviews from critics and audiences alike. Currently on Rotten Tomatoes, the documentary has a 20 percent on the Tomatometer and a three percent audience score, deeming it one the worst audience ratings in TV show history.

Adele James, who played the role of Cleopatra, has publicly said that the documentary was not blackwashing, a term used to describe changing the ethnicity of a person to make them black. She also feels that blackwashing is not a thing at all in Hollywood.

Hopefully the outrage over Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra documentary will have subsided by the time Gal Gadot’s film about the Egyptian leader comes to theaters. While there is no release date set yet for Cleopatra, it has been confirmed that the Wonder Woman star will portray the Queen of Egypt in a new film that is purely fictional, so they won’t have to worry about any lawsuits. Kari Scogland, a fellow MCU alumni who is known for her work on the TV mini-series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, will be directing the new film.