Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra is the latest addition to the streaming platform’s trend of revisiting historical events and famous characters. The show follows the same format as other docudramas on the platform, featuring a mix of expert interviews and fictional recreations of memorable moments in history.
The show is introduced by narrator and executive producer Jada Pinkett Smith, who uses laudatory adjectives to describe Cleopatra and sets the tone for the rest of the series. While the expert interviews provide valuable insights into the historical figure, the fictional recreations lack genuine attempts to accurately represent the story.
This trend of historical exploitation began with the premiere of The Last Czars in 2019. Since then, Netflix has continued to release docudramas such as Blood, Sex and Royalty and Queens of Africa: Njinga. The focus has shifted to adding feminist and racial components to the retelling of historical events.
Queen Cleopatra takes a similar approach. While exploring Cleopatra’s journey to the throne and military alliance with the Roman Empire, the show also incorporates a racial discourse. Adele James gives life to a Cleopatra who emphasizes her race and lineage, adding a strategic opportunism that attempts to align the past with present agendas.
The show’s fictional recreations are an improvement over previous series, with better performances, but they lack dramatic development and are reduced to brief fragments that illustrate previous statements. The logic of the series remains the same: simplify the story, turn characters into heroes or villains, and transform political strategies into adolescent whims and passionate romances.
While contemporary historical cinema has chosen farce as a gateway to history, these docudramas dispense with humor and rely on expert testimonials for authenticity. However, this approach ignores the nuances and complexities of history, presenting a simplified version that is more akin to a soap opera than a genuine reflection of past events.
In the end, Queen Cleopatra and other docudramas like it seek to justify their portrayal of history by bending it to fit modern agendas. While this approach may be popular with viewers, it fails to critically examine the past and risks perpetuating myths and misconceptions.