Is Gal Gadot the right choice to bring Cleopatra back to the big screen?

Lucia Qureshi discusses the debate around Gal Gadot's casting in a new "Cleopatra" film

Lucia Qureshi
2nd November 2020
Image credit: Pixabay
Gal Gadot's announcement on her casting of Cleopatra might've focused on the benefits of a female-led project in the traditionally male-dominated world of Hollywood, but her casting has sparked a heated debate across social media and among the press.

This casting choice has been seen as yet another instance of ‘white-washing’ in Hollywood, a trend particularly notable in previous depictions of Cleopatra by Claudette Colbert in 1934 and Elizabeth Taylor’s Oscar-winning film in 1963. While Gadot does have a relatively light complexion, the dispute is complicated by her status as an Israeli woman and that historians disagree about Cleopatra’s skin colour and heritage.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that the queen was born in Egypt and has become symbolic of her nation. Gadot has also become closely associated with her nationality; stating that she has a “strong sense of [her] Jewish and Israeli identity”. These self-perceptions of her identity are reflected in her experiences as the winner of Miss Israel in 2004 and her two years of service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which are imposed by the IDF's mandatory conscription.

In fact, Gadot thinks that the latter was the reason for being cast in the Fast and Furious franchise, as “the director Justin Lin really liked that [she] was in the military, and he wanted to use [her] knowledge of weapons.” These connections have been integrated into her public identity, posting the below, about the Gaza conflict in 2014, during which the BBC estimates 2,251 Palestinians (1,462 of which were civilians) and 67 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed:

I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens. Especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children...We shall overcome!!! Shabbat Shalom! #weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror #coexistance #loveidf

 But what does this have to do with Cleopatra?

Gadot's portrayal of Wonder Woman has been a huge success for the DC franchise
Image Credit: IMDb

As this post shows, Gadot has openly supported the IDF (and more broadly Israel’s national interests) and has therefore been considered as a representative of their aims and actions. These could largely be seen as being in conflict with Egypt’s, with many thinking that Egypt should lead the Arab and Muslim communities in opposing Israel in its conflict with Palestine.

Gadot’s acting career has already been seen in connection with these affiliations, with the Independent stating that “Wonder Woman is officially pro-IDF.”

Whilst this might seem a far cry from the film industry, Gadot’s acting career has already been seen in connection with these affiliations, with the Independent stating that “Wonder Woman is officially pro-IDF.” In fact, this went so far as Wonder Woman (2017) being banned in Tunisia, Lebanon and Qatar, decisions that have since been labelled as a “Racist Protest Against” Gadot by CBN News. With this context in mind, it has been seen as highly problematic to have someone such as Gadot playing such an iconographic Egyptian figure.

These complex cultural, social and political implications need to be remembered when discussing this casting choice. It will probably be a while before the film hits our screens and audiences can decide for themselves whether Gal Gadot should or should not be playing Cleopatra (or even whether someone else would be better suited). But one thing is certain, this decision has instigated important conversations that need to be had about representation in film.

Feature image credit: IMDb

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