How the Leiden Museum got caught up in the attack on the Netflix series about Cleopatra

If you think you put on a nice summer fair, you have brought the wrath of a nation upon you. It happened to the National Museum of Archeology (RMO) in Leiden with the exhibition kemite. Egypt in hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk, which opened on April 22. A week later, the backlash from Egypt began pouring in: nearly a thousand one-star ratings on Google and hundreds of angry comments on social media. What happened here?

In the exhibition, the museum is looking at “the significance of ancient Egypt and Nubia in the work of artists from the African diaspora”—particularly black artists from the United States. The museum says they “embrace and claim these ancient African cultures to express resistance, empowerment, and spiritual healing.” The visitor will see Beyoncé and Rihanna as Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, rapper Nas as Pharaoh Tutankhamun and Eddie Murphy as Pharaoh Ramesses, among others.

Innocent inspiration from another culture? No, according to members of the Facebook group Defenders of Egyptian History: These powerful American artists are chasing a culture that isn’t their own. This group’s call for a protest was the beginning of the storm of criticism, says director Wim Wegland. “There have been so many reactions — sometimes very racist in nature — that we can no longer handle it in terms of moderation. So we’ve temporarily closed our Facebook page.”


The museum was aware of the potentially sensitive nature of the exhibition in advance, says Wiegland, but was still overwhelmed by the intense backlash. “Note: They are from people who have not seen the exhibition. We are neatly juxtaposing the current state of knowledge in Egyptology alongside the cultural expressions of American artists.”

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in Long statement in English on the website RMO reviews all possible points of criticism. The museum maintains that there is no question of “Africano-centric propaganda”. Afrocentrism is an intellectual movement that studies history from the perspective of Africa and the African diaspora. These include studies that view ancient Egypt as an African culture. Some researchers claim that the ancient Egyptians were black Africans.

Visitor sees Beyoncé as Nefertiti and rapper Naz Pharaoh, among others

Wegeland: “We test these claims against scientific knowledge. kemite It is an ancient Egyptian word meaning “black”. According to some Americans, this refers to the skin color of the inhabitants of ancient Egypt. We explain that the “black land” is the fertile soil around the Nile.

Now the negative comments have been removed by Google and a response on the RMO Facebook page is possible again, Weijland says. “We’ve expanded our moderation team so that we can also respond outside of business hours and remove racist comments immediately.”

The RMO exhibition ended in the middle of the controversy that arose around it The documentary Queen Cleopatra which premiered on Netflix this month, but the first trailer appeared in mid-April. This four-part series is produced by Hollywood star Jada Pinkett Smith, with black British actress Adele James playing Cleopatra. In addition, speaking to experts, one of them mentioned that Cleopatra was black.

uproar in Egypt

The global broadcasting giant has a wider scope than the Leiden Museum, so this documentary instantly caused a stir in Egypt. This was a little different back then Liz Taylor, who played Cleopatra in the 1963 feature filmAccording to critics, a historic claim was made here. A lawyer wanted to stop Netflix from broadcasting the documentary, and there was also an outcry on the political level.

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Zahi Hawass, the most famous Egyptian archaeologist, wrote in a comment That Cleopatra was not black. “She was descended from a Greek-Macedonian general, a contemporary of Alexander the Great. Her first language was Greek, and contemporary busts and paintings clearly depict her as white.” Head of the Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri talk about “Falsification of Egyptian History”.

Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s most famous archaeologist, wrote in response that Cleopatra was not black

Pinkett Smith stood by her chosen one and Adele James He said recently on a podcast There is no such thing asblackwashingShe laments that people “feel the need to separate Egypt from the rest of the continent.” In an opinion article on The New York Times Two American scholars wrote this week that Cleopatra’s complexion may not have been black, but that she was “culturally black” because it is part of a history of “victory, exploitation, and survival.”

Wegland thinks it’s very unfortunate that the discussion got out of hand in this way, he says. And to believe that our exhibition was planned a year ago, but was postponed due to the epidemic. if kemite It didn’t coincide with this documentary, maybe we would have weathered this storm. I hope many people will come and see for themselves, so they can form their own opinion.”

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