Gal Gadot is set to play Cleopatra in an upcoming movie about the Queen of the Nile. Patty Jenkins, who also directed Gadot in “Wonder Woman,” will direct the biopic.
Gadot herself pitched the idea of a Cleopatra biopic. “Cleopatra is a story I wanted to tell for a very long time,” she tweeted, adding that she hopes “to tell her story for the first time through women’s eyes.” Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt from 51 B.C. to her death, a few years after she and her Roman lover Mark Antony were defeated in the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C.
But some blue checkmarks on Twitter rushed to condemn Gadot for everything from being Israeli to being “too pretty.” Journalist Sameera Khan called Gadot “bland looking,” adding “shame on you, Gal Gadot. Your country steals Arab land & you’re stealing their movie roles.”
Twitter warriors who condemned Gadot’s casting as racially insensitive turned around and targeted her for her ethnicity as an Israeli woman. Asad Abukhali, a professor at California State University, quipped, “[W]hy not Netanyahu as Mark Antony?”
Hella Samar, who has written for Forbes, posted a link to the announcement of Gadot’s casting with the message: “We don’t want the colonizers portraying ANY roles.”
Writer Randa Jarrar called Gadot a “zionist” and suggested fans “rewatch the Liz Taylor version” instead. (She apparently has no problem with the fact that Elizabeth Taylor was born in England to parents from the American Midwest?)
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, a Democratic candidate who ran unsuccessfully for New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District, criticized Gadot for “her vocal support of the Israeli Defense Forces’ actions in Palestine” and suggested Gadot supports “the oppression of women and girls.”
Morgan Jerkins, a New York Times bestselling author, likened Gadot’s skin to a “brown paper bag.” She suggested casting a darker-skinned actress would be “a bit more historically accurate” before admitting that Cleopatra’s father was Macedonian Greek and her mother’s ethnicity isn’t definitively known.
As Jerkins admitted (and many Twitter users were quickly informed), Cleopatra was neither black nor ethnically African. She was descended from Ptolemy I Soter, a Macedonian Greek who was a general under Alexander the Great. Cleopatra’s father was Ptolemy XII. Historians aren’t sure who her mother was, as rulers often had children with multiple women, but she may have been Cleopatra V Tryphaena, Ptolemy’s wife.
Laeta Kalogridis, who is of Greek descent and is writing the script for the Cleopatra movie, reminded fans that Cleopatra was of Macedonian Greek heritage. Despite this, the media is latching onto the criticism Gadot has received. “Gal Gadot cast as Cleopatra, draws criticism as ‘very bland looking’ Israeli playing the queen of Egypt,” USA Today headlined. The Los Angeles Times also commented that “Gal Gadot has been tapped to play Cleopatra, and fan reaction is split.”
“Fan reaction was mostly skeptical,” the L.A. Times decided, citing a total of three Twitter accounts to support their conclusion.
Others complained that Gadot was too attractive for the role. “Regardless of ethnicity, gal gadot [sic] is simply too pretty to play cleopatra [sic]” wrote Alexandra Scaggs, a senior writer at Barron’s.
In reality, Gadot has much more in common with Cleopatra than the average Hollywood starlet does.
Like Cleopatra, who led ships into battle at Actium, Gadot has military experience. She spent two years in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat trainer during the Israel-Hezbollah War.
The “Wonder Woman” star is bilingual, speaking her native Hebrew as well as English. Cleopatra spoke both Egyptian and Greek, as well as several other languages (some say she spoke up to 12).
Gadot also has an interest in foreign policy, a field Cleopatra excelled in. Before becoming an actress, Gadot was studying at Radzyner Law School of the IDC Herzliya. While she was there, she brushed off an early casting invitation because, in her words, “I’m studying law and international relations. I’m way too serious and smart to be an actress.”
Cleopatra is famous for her foreign policy with the Roman Empire and its leaders. Through boosting Egypt’s trading economy and allying herself with Mark Antony, Cleopatra tried to preserve Egypt’s independence in the face of the Roman Empire.
Additionally, Gadot’s homeland of Israel was annexed by the Roman Empire, as Egypt was following Cleopatra’s death. (Those calling Gadot a “colonizer” would do well to remember this.) In 70 A.D., after years of Roman occupation, the city of Jerusalem was burned by Roman forces. Historian Josephus Flavius tells of hundreds of thousands of Jews killed in the siege, and others sold as slaves.
Gadot has an even more personal understanding of the wrongs that have been committed against the Jewish people; both of her grandparents on her mother’s side were Holocaust survivors.
Elizabeth Taylor — who starred in the 1963 epic about the Egyptian queen — leaves big shoes to fill. But Gadot can bring a depth to the complex character of Cleopatra that few actresses in Tinsletown today can.