That Old Chestnut…

Angelina Jolie to Play Cleopatra

Well Damn! If nothing else proves Liz Taylor is dead and gone this truly is the final nail in the coffin. But that is not what this pseudo rant is about.

Let me preface this with I have nothing against Angelina Jolie. This is in no way a critique of her ability to portray Cleopatra. In fact, considering the more female centric view that I understand this film will have, I will even say she will likely be excellent in the role. That is if she does not go all “Alexander” creepy. One of my least favorite Jolie acting jobs was in that movie – sorry. Still, another in famous Caucasian woman is set to portray arguably the most famous woman of color in history. And that is what is stuck in my gut reaction craw.

As an adult I understand the casting of Elizabeth Taylor in the role. It was the cultural/social climate of Hollywood and let’s be honest, most of America then. Such a monumental (and most expensive movie ever at that time), was not going to risk a huge loss by doing something so bold as having an actual Black actress in the lead role. Hell, had Kirk almost kissed Uhura (however unwillingly according to the story line) yet? I’ll have to check the time lines and get back to yo on that. America was not about to have a Black actress cavorting about with Richard Burton on such a grand scale, back then. I honestly do get that, I really do, but that was then.

What’s the reasoning behind it now?

Have all the Black actresses vanished? Are the all so busy in Hollywood that none were available for chance to portray such an icon? Are none worthy? Hell, were any even half seriously considered for the role? This production has a couple of good names behind it with Scott Rudin producing and David Fincher directing. They couldn’t slap on a pair between the two of them and do something totally off the wall daring and by Isis cast an actress of some color for the role?

And before the scholars get started, I official hold to Cleopatra’s proposed mixed heritage of Greek and Egyptian. The way I see it, at the “lightest” end of the scale she was middle-eastern. At here “darkest” she may have been somewhere near as brown as the hieroglyphs portray her. We may never, really know. At any other point in 1963 American, that considerably more than “one drop” Egyptian (Nubian) blood would have branded her as Black. It’s almost amusing how far that pendulum swings in the opposite direction when it comes to her. So okay okay, give Jolie a tan, thrown in some brown contacts and a lot of kohl around the eyes, she will be fine. It worked for Liz Taylor after all (sans the contacts part).

Will I watch this updated Cleopatra (or whatever it will be named) when it comes out? Yes, I am always interested in a fresh tale on an old subject. Hopefully, this take won’t be quite as grandiose as the 1963 version. Besides, I am a Jolie fan after all and she rarely disappoints in her acting. Odds are I will at least like, if not totally enjoy the movie.

But you can’t blame a gal of color for wishing for a little more color in Hollywood movies. Le sigh.

/pseudo rant

1 thought on “That Old Chestnut…

  1. “Cleopatra” from the female point of view? Interesting, especially as she was known to call in her male slaves, have sex with them once, and then feed them to the crocodiles through a trap door.

    As to her mixed Greek-Egyptian heritage, when did the Greeks get in? She supposedly was the product of thirteen successive generations of brother-sister marriages. According to the late Sir Laurence Gardner, the pharoah was supposed to always be the child of the previous pharoah with his/her maternal half-sibling.

    Perhaps Cleopatra should be portrayed by a Black actress. Many of them would be capable of lending the required regal character to the role.

    Incidentally, I have never looked at this closely. Do the hieroglyphics portray Cleopatra as darker than the other figures? Considering the climate in which they lived, it seems likely that all of the ancient Egyptians would have been well tanned.

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