Sellers Visits Queen Cleopatra

In light of the Netflix series Queen Cleopatra, Classical and Modern Languages Chair Ryan Sellers began the Wednesday Hyde Chapel speaker series August 18 with an examination of the life and media representation of the queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt.
The Netflix series was released to controversy and negative reviews, Sellers said. “The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities issued a blistering statement in which it called the series a falsification of Egyptian history and a blatant historical misconception.”

Some of the controversy revolves around the casting of Black actor Adele James in the title role. But Sellers made the case that, although Cleopatra was of European descent on her paternal side, she was eight generations removed from Ptolemy, and her complete genealogy is unknown. 

Sellers has his own gripes about the program, including the acting and production value. “The Battle of Actium looks like it was filmed in a backyard swimming pool; the establishing shots of Alexandria inexplicably do not include the lighthouse, one of the most famous landmarks in the ancient world; and the dialogue has all of the gravitas of a soap opera.”

He touched on other media representations through the years, including “the dumpster fire that is the production of the 1963 Cleopatra film,” starring Elizabeth Taylor as the Egyptian queen and Richard Burton as Mark Antony.

Instead of getting caught up in the superficial debates surrounding these projects, Sellers chooses to focus on what Cleopatra accomplished. “I would prefer to examine more interesting and more important aspects of her life … her sophistication, her leadership skills, her political acumen, her enduring legacy, and especially her influence on the Romans and the beautiful ruins, both literal and figurative, of what they’ve left behind.”

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