The recent casting of Gal Gadot as Cleopatra in an upcoming film by Patty Jenkins has sparked a raging debate about Cleopatra’s racial heritage and Gadot’s controversial support for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Historians have begun to question the longstanding belief that Queen Cleopatra was purely a white queen due to her Father’s Macedonian-Greek Heritage. Moreover, scholars have recently discovered Cleopatra’s father also had Persian and Syrian roots. Additionally, while her mother’s ethnic origin continues to remain unconfirmed, scholars have discovered her family comes from priests in Memphis. Egyptologists have created a 3D image of Cleopatra’s likely appearance based on artifacts found during her reign. These images support the belief that Cleopatra was a mixed-race woman with Greek, Arab, and Egyptian heritage.
These recent findings of the Queen’s heritage have added fuel to the criticism that Hollywood whitewashes historic mixed-race figures. Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress, fits the representative box for Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) representation. However, she also fits into the Hollywood culture of white favouritism, where lighter-skinned minorities that adhere to the westernized aesthetic are favoured. This form of favouritism has led to many Hollywood films such as The Ten Commandments and The Mummy franchise to sideline and lessen the impact, influence, and strength of North African characters and figures.
This casting has become another missed opportunity for Hollywood to find an appropriate and inclusive actor for the role, such as an actual Arab, Egyptian, or Greek actress rather than an Israeli actress. Not to mention an actress who has made some controversial decisions to support a military that has invaded and meddled in those very same regions.
Gadot served a mandatory two-year military service for the Israeli army during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War. She has since used her army background to boost her modelling and acting career in Hollywood. In a 2015 interview for Fashion magazine, Gadot said,“The army wasn’t that difficult for me. The military gave me good training for Hollywood.” It’s questionable what she considered not “that difficult” during a war that lasted more than a month and had a devastating impact, killing approximately 1,300 Lebanese people, displacing almost a million, and destroying Lebanese infrastructure. Additionally, the war resulted in the death of 165 Israeli people and displacing close to 500,000. Through her comment, Gadot suggested her military experience should be applauded, celebrated, and appreciated in Hollywood enough for her to make a profitable career.
In 2014, the Israeli army made a deeply controversial decision to invade Gaza. Gadot publicly supported this move in a Facebook post, saying, “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!”
The 2014 attack is known to be one of the deadliest battles between the Palestinians and Israelis. The attack aimed to destroy the Gaza tunnel systems. As a result, 34 tunnels were destroyed, up to 2,300 Gazans were killed, and more than 10,500 were wounded. Afterward, thousands had to seek shelter, medical care, and food, to which neighbouring countries, including Egypt, supplied. However, these essential supplies were rerouted and blocked. Some claim the supplies were taken by Hamas; others claim it was done by Israeli forces. Refugees and displaced populations sought refuge in schools, which were also attacked by unlawful attacks, killing 17 children. Furthermore, an estimated 370,000 children required psycho-social support, 485,000 went without food, and 1.8 million without water.
There is nothing wrong with supporting your country or your fellow brothers and sisters in arms during contesting times. However, when the army’s actions involve human rights abuses, significant deprivation of resources to those in need, and a disregard for humanity, it is critical to be extremely cautious about what is said and how. Despite the backlash received from her Facebook post, Gadot has yet to delete it, likely meaning that she stands by her controversial statement.
Israel is currently involved in another exhausting and devastating conflict with Palestine, which has engaged genocidal activities, ethnic cleansing, and blockades for aid. Although Egypt and other Arab countries have voiced their support for Palestine, some countries have begun to enter into agreements with Israel, aided by the support of the U.S. Due to their deeply interconnected histories, the surrounding Arab countries have religious and ethnically connected populations within Palestine that are suffering the consequences of this conflict, but are unable to provide aid due to blockades and interference from Western powers like the U.S. However, it is clear that the consequences of the conflict between Israel and Palestine will impact these surrounding nations in terms of trade, national security, and demographic vulnerability. Having a world-famous movie star and a feminist champion supporting this controversial military’s actions, the significance and urgency of this issue are dismissed. Not to mention, Gadot’s efforts and support inspire indifference among her audience.
Gadot’s unnerving support for the IDF and the military’s lack of condemnation for its actions exacerbate the conflict in Palestine. If Gal Gadot is to be a champion for women, an icon for inclusivity and diversity in Hollywood, her humanistic approach should not be selective or exclusionary. How can one claim to be a figurehead for unity when they publicly support the opposite?
Disney’s live-action Mulan has been widely boycotted and criticized for Liu Yifei’s comments supporting the Hong Kong police during the pro-democracy demonstrations. Priyanka Chopra was subject to a lot of criticism and was briefly “cancelled” for her support of the Indian Army, potentially encouraging nuclear conflict with Pakistan. As global citizens, we need to be particular about who we want as our role models, who profit off our interests, and who we want representing us. It is incredibly hypocritical if two actors of non-white racial backgrounds are boycotted and criticized for their public comments but not Gadot, solely because she happens to be part of the “lighter side” of Hollywood.
Despite protests, backlash, and criticism, Hollywood continues to decide to cast controversial actors that support problematic actions that cause abuses to other people. At the end of the day, the movie industry is about making money, garnering fame, and making headlines. Therefore, it is unlikely that Gadot will lose this role. There seems to be a complete disregard for the human impact when actors, like Gadot, support movements that are harmful. We as consumers need to demand change and enforce the understanding that the movie industry needs to be more than just money and attention. It needs to be a place that values allhuman life by enlisting actors who use their influence to better humanity rather than disregard it.