New documentary Queen Cleopatra might have only just landed on Netflix, but the series is already at the centre of much controversy.


Queen Cleopatra is the second instalment of Jada Pinkett Smith’s African Queens series, and the actor continues to narrate the documentary as she looks into the life of the Egyptian ruler and her reign from 51 to 30 BC.

Before it was even released on Netflix, however, there was outrage from some over the show’s casting of Black biracial actress Adele James as the lead.

Read on for everything you need to know about Queen Cleopatra, including the full cast line-up and why the show has proved so controversial.

Queen Cleopatra release date

Queen Cleopatra premiered on Netflix on Wednesday 10th May 2023.

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All four episodes will be available to stream.

Was Cleopatra Black? Netflix show controversy explained

Before the show even landed on Netflix, there was outrage from some over the decision to cast Black biracial actress Adele James as the lead.

Amongst those voicing criticism of the casting choice was the Egyptian Government, which said in a statement that artefacts and coins of the time proved that Cleopatra possessed a "light complexion" with Greek "Hellenistic characteristics".

One Egyptian lawyer even filed a lawsuit against Netflix, accusing the streamer of trying to "erase the Egyptian identity".

Speaking exclusively to, James recently admitted that she found the anger towards the series's casting choice "upsetting".

"I think it's misjudged," she explained. "I think people's anger is quite misplaced for the fact that it's a docudrama. So you know, there is a documentary element to it. There's academic research to support the casting choice, and also while I absolutely am of Black ethnic heritage, my mum is white, so I'm a mixed race actress."

James continued: "I'm a biracial actress playing a potentially, based on academic research, biracial historical figure. So for me, it's a bit frustrating and upsetting obviously, but also it reduces the whole series to one element of what we're trying to talk about here and I think that's just a shame. I'm glad that the tide is turning away from that a little bit now."

Cast member John Partridge, who plays Julius Caesar, told of the backlash: "I guess I'm saying this in a broader casting level, you know, we are all cast for different reasons, for different purposes, for the telling of this particular piece. That's all we are, we are vessels for storytelling."

He continued: "And I know Adele's had quite a rough time through some of the promotion of this and it's hard, as an actor that's hard. It's hard to be criticised for things other than your storytelling, or your talent."

What is Queen Cleopatra about?

Queen Cleopatra will look at the story of Cleopatra VII Philopator, also known as the Queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC – and its last active ruler.

Speaking of the series, Pinkett Smith said: "We don't often get to see or hear stories about Black queens, and that was really important for me, as well as for my daughter, and just for my community to be able to know those stories because there are tons of them! Cleopatra is a queen who many know about, but not in her truth.

"She’s been displayed as overtly sexual, excessive, and corrupt, yet she was a strategist, an intellect, a commanding force of nature, who fought to protect her kingdom… and her heritage is highly debated. This season will dive deeper into her history and re-assesses this fascinating part of her story.”

The series is executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, Terence Carter, Miguel Melendez and Sahara Bushue for Westbrook Studios; and by Jane Root and Ben Goold for Nutopia.

Queen Cleopatra cast

Queen Cleopatra cast
The cast of Queen Cleopatra. Netflix

Netflix revealed the Queen Cleopatra cast on Wednesday 13th April.

Casualty star Adele James will star as Cleopatra, while EastEnders' John Partridge will play Julius Caesar, The Last Kingdom's Craig Russell will play Marc Antony and former EastEnders' actor Michael Greco will star as Pothinus.

Queen Cleopatra trailer

You can watch the full trailer for Queen Cleopatra below:

Queen Cleopatra premieres on Netflix on Wednesday 10th May 2023. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

Check out more of our Documentaries coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.


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