Actress Angelina Jolie has been signed to play Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt, in a remake of the famous 1963 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor.
I have two thoughts about this:
1. It’s wrong.
2. It’s brilliant.
First, why it’s wrong:
· Cleopatra, according to Plutarch, was not gorgeous. Coins minted during her reign and busts carved during the period back this up. What really made her irresistible was the force of her personality--her charisma, intelligence, wit and charm.
· Jolie’s fair skin and light eyes misrepresent Cleopatra’s true heritage, which was Greek. She was the last of the Ptolemaic rulers, kings and queens descended from Ptolemy I, Alexander the Great’s general and self-proclaimed half-brother. Ptolemies intermarried within the bloodline to keep a stranglehold on the throne. I’ve always pictured Cleo with the brown eyes and olive skin of the young woman pictured on the cover of my new book, a self-portrait of Elizabeth Salib, who is Lebanese.
· Jolie’s sex appeal will likely set the tone for the movie. Rather than celebrating Cleopatra’s brilliance in politics, the movie will likely do what the Romans have done to her image since the moment of her death—focus on her sexual relationships and make her out be a dangerous, evil manipulator. The more complex and nuanced Cleopatra—the Cleopatra that kept Rome from swallowing up her kingdom for more than 20 years—will get swept aside.
Now, why it’s brilliant.
· Seriously, who wouldn’t want to want to watch Angelina Jolie vamp it up in ancient Egyptian costume for a couple of hours?
· Hollywood will make a ton of money out of it.
And therein lies the issue. In a battle between history and Hollywood, guess who always wins?