In this blockbuster, Elizabeth Taylor plays Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt. It did not matter to the filmmakers that Cleopatra actually looked much more like Cicely Tyson. To cast an Egyptian pharaoh as anything but a White person would have been out of step with the racist fantasies the filmmakers desired to capitalize on. Whitewashing glorious non-Whites in history has been one of Hollywood’s favorite pastimes. As quite possibly the most acclaimed and popular movie on ancient Egypt, “Cleopatra” Whitewashed Black Egypt in the American mind probably more than any other film.
Egyptians would be pretty pissed off at being referred to as black if we’re honest about it, that’s something they use to describe the others further south. And Cleopatra wasn’t ethnically Egyptian anyway. Of Greek, Macedonian, descent.
True, not as pale white as Liz Taylor but most certainly not “black” in the meaning either of the time or today.
“The Passion of the Christ” did much more than tragically reinforce the myth that evil Jews killed Jesus—a myth that has inflamed anti-Semitic sentiment for centuries. If “Cleopatra” is the most notable cinematic Whitewashing of ancient Egyptians honored by the Oscars, then “The Passion of the Christ” is the most notable cinematic Whitewashing of Jesus honored by the Oscars. Jim Caviezel starred as Jesus Christ, satisfying the racist theological imagination that can only envision the son of God as a White man. To racist logic, just as the ancient Egyptian fashioners of human civilization must be White, God and his perfect god-son—the creators and saviors of humanity—must be White. Maybe the lightning that struck Caviezel during the filming of “The Passion of the Christ”—scourging him badly—was also meant to strike at this universal perception of Jesus as White.
Are Semites white? They’re certainly Caucasian….
This animated film produced by Walter Disney contained eight segments set to classical music. In “The Pastoral Symphony” segment, Disney presents an ancient Greco-Roman world of centaurs—heads of humans, bodies of horses—where Black female centaurs shine the hooves and groom the tails of the prettier White female centaurs. Critics immediately hailed “Fantasia” as a masterwork of animation, neglecting to mention it animated the racist ideas of Walt Disney for gullible American children.
Pretty weak really. American society really was pretty racist at that time. US Army was still fully segregated for example.
Black people had long been likened to apes in racist mythology. And so, it is hardly a stretch to say the film’s apes—who enslave the White astronauts after their long space journey—signify Black people in this movie.
Anyone noted that the Africa apes at least, chimps, bonobos, gorillas, are in fact black of face?
In the “Song of the South,” Walt Disney celebrated the docile, contented slave character of Uncle Remus, created and popularized by Joel Chandler Harris in the late 19th century. James Baskett starred as Uncle Remus and Disney cast Hattie McDaniel in her customary role as the happy Mammy.
Blimey, as best we know the Uncle Remus stories are the filtration through the slave experience of original West African stories. This is true oral history with a vengeance.
Ibram X. Kendi is an assistant professor of African American history at the University of Florida
Another place to add to our little list of universities not to get educated at.