What the Critics of Netflix’s Cleopatra Series Get Wrong

Dwayne Wong (Omowale)
4 min readMay 27

It was only a matter of time before “wokeness” was blamed on the recent Netflix serious which depicts Cleopatra VII as a black woman. This is precisely what Dr. Arthur Saniotis did in a recent article. Wokeness has become essentially meaningless as a phrase given that so many of the critics cannot explain what it means, but they use wokeness as a point of attack for anything that they do not like.

Afrocentrism is treated the same way. Individuals who do not even know what Afrocentrism even is often use it as a point of attack. Santiotis did both of these things, explaining:

Another point of contention of the Cleopatra documentary is its Afro-centric influence. The word “Afrocentrism” was first coined in 1962 to describe an ideological movement which focuses on the historical achievements and contributions of Africans. The movement took pace in the mid 20th century in order to challenge the dominance of European misconceptions and distortions of African societies. While its initial motivations were moral and right, Afrocentric thinkers went on to write their own distorted version of history. For example, a leading Afrocentrist Cheikh Anta Diop argued that the Egyptian civilisation was a black African civilisation — the first to develop science, farming writing, arts and the calendar. Apart from the 25th Dynasty (747–656 BC) which was ruled by black Kushite kings, all other Egyptian Pharoanic dynasties were not sub-Saharan Africans.

I myself have been critical of the decision to portray Cleopatra VII as a black woman. There is simply no historical evidence to suggest that she was. The claim that Cleopatra VII was a black woman is one which has become popular over the years among those who assume that Cleopatra must have been black since she lived in Africa, but she was the descendant of a Greek ruling family which was noted for inbreeding. Cleopatra herself married her brothers.

Where I differ with many of the critics — such as Saniotis — is that they often fall into the same Eurocentrism which produced Afrocentrism in the first place. To begin with, Afrocentrism as an approach to studying history is one which was developed by Molefi Asante. Asante did not coin the term Afrocentrism, but his writings on Afrocentricity certainly popularized Afrocentrism…

Dwayne Wong (Omowale)

I am a Pan-Africanist activist, historian, and author. I am also certified in CompTIA Security +