Denis Villeneuve has reportedly found the new headliner for his next film Cleopatra. According to journalist Daniel Richtman, actress Zendaya, who has already worked with the filmmaker in Dune, would be the lucky one to play the queen of ancient Egypt.
The project, which should begin filming after the release of Dune 2 in March, is not new. “I have this historical film project on the life of Cleopatra which is in development and which I am very excited about. I hope to bring it to the screen before or after the first part of Dune,” the Canadian director explained to TVA in 2020. The feature film, written by David Scarpa - author of the script for Napoleon -, will be made based on the biography Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff.
According to the screenwriter, this new adaptation would be more of a bloody thriller than a simple historical epic. “Instead of making the film like a prestige fresco – three hours, lots of pageantry, people with fans and English accents and all the rest – we want to make Cleopatra a political thriller. Dirty, bloody, with people swearing, having sex and everything else. We are going against the idea that people might have of such a film,” the screenwriter revealed in 2017 during a press conference.
The choice of Zendaya to play Cleopatra is likely to increase criticism. The Queen of Egypt had white skin due to her Hellenistic origins according to most historians while Zendaya is African-American. Netflix had already created a scandal in May after giving the role of Cleopatra to a black actress in the documentary series Queen Cleopatra. According to The Jerusalem Post, Egyptian lawyer Mahmoud Al-Semary had notably requested a ban on the broadcast of the documentary in his country, indicating that the platform “was at the origin of a distortion of history”.
These comments did not fail to provoke a reaction at the time from Tina Ghavari, the director of the documentary series. The filmmaker published an article in the columns of Variety. “What bothers you so much about a black Cleopatra?” she asked.
In the role of Cleopatra, Zendaya would follow a long line of actresses such as Monica Bellucci, Sophia Loren and Marion Cotillard. According to some rumors, other actors have also joined the cast of Cleopatra. Timothée Chalamet and Daniel Craig have reportedly been selected to play the roles of Octave and Julius Caesar respectively.