Black women telling white stories: Netflix Cleopatra and other shows

As a dark-skinned black woman from the United States, I have often felt disappointed by the lack of representation in the entertainment industry. When black people demanded more representation, we didn’t mean using black bodies to tell white stories. Nor did we mean using biracial people to tell black stories. Yet, this is exactly what we see happening in the industry today.

There have been recent examples of this trend, such as Netflix’s documentary on Cleopatra, Channel 5’s Anne Boleyn, and Disney’s Little Mermaid. These productions have cast black women in roles that historically have been portrayed as white.

Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, was white. Every historical account has left absolutely no doubt that she was white. However, Netflix saw fit to cast a black woman to portray Cleopatra in a historical documentary.

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, was also white. But in Channel 5’s recent production, a black woman was cast to play her.

The Little Mermaid is a European story, yet Disney cast a black woman to play the lead character.

This trend is problematic because the entertainment industry is refusing to allow black stories to be told by black people. Instead, they are only allowing black people to tell stories about struggles such as civil rights or slavery. Africans and the black diaspora have stories in every genre, but the industry is choosing to ignore them.

Why use a black woman to portray Cleopatra when there were powerful black African queens who had military power and ruled kingdoms? Why not tell their stories? We have heard about Cleopatra for years, but Africa is filled with stories of other powerful women.

Why do we need to tell the story of Anne Boleyn as a black woman when other famous black women are ignored or forgotten? The same goes for Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

Furthermore, notice how all these women are paired with white men. This is an insult right in our faces, and most people don’t even realize it. The industry is saying that our men aren’t good enough for our beautiful black women. They can use black women’s bodies to tell white stories but not black men. They are saying that our stories are not worthy of being told, and that only white stories matter.

When will this all stop? Will we see Mulan, a historical Chinese figure, being played by a black woman? Will we see Japanese queens and princesses being played by black women?

Representation matters. Black people want to see their stories told by black people, not just struggle stories but all kinds of stories. We want to see black excellence and power celebrated, not just in the context of slavery and oppression. We want to see black stories represented in every genre, not just in dramas and historical pieces.

It’s time for the entertainment industry to do better. Black people deserve to see themselves reflected in the media they consume. We want to see ourselves portrayed as beautiful, strong, and powerful, not just as sidekicks or victims. We want to see our stories told by us, not just as a way for white people to pat themselves on the back for being “woke.”