African Queens (TV series)

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African Queens
Written by
  • Peres Owino
  • Nnenne Iwuji
Directed by
Narrated by
Music by
  • Michael 'Mikey' J Asante
Country of origin
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes8
Executive producer
  • Jada Pinkett Smith
  • Sean Francis
Running time45 minutes
Production companies
Original release
ReleaseFebruary 15, 2023 (2023-02-15) –
present (present)[needs update?]

African Queens is a 2023 docudrama series focusing on female monarchs, airing on the streaming service Netflix. The series is produced and narrated by Jada Pinkett Smith and features dramatized fictional re-enactments as well as interviews with experts. The first season covers Njinga, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba, and is directed by Ethosheia Hylton. The second season focuses on Queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Pharaoh Cleopatra VII Philopator, and is directed by Tina Gharavi.


Drawing of Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba in Luanda, Angola
The Berlin Cleopatra, a Roman sculpture of Cleopatra wearing a royal diadem, mid-1st century BC.

The docu-drama series combines dramatic recreations with interviews with historians and people from the modern-day regions that the Queen ruled over. Producer Jada Pinkett Smith cited a lack of stories covering Black queens as her inspiration for helming the series.[1] She said: "We don't often get to see or hear stories about Black queens, and that was really important for me, as well as for my daughter, and just for my community to be able to know those stories because there are tons of them."[2]

For the first season, the life of Njinga, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba, is explored.[3] Interviewees include Kellie Carter Jackson, Wellesley College associate professor in the Department of Africana Studies; Diambi Kabatusuila, the present-day traditional Queen of the Bakwa Luntu people in Central Kasaï; and Rosa Cruz e Silva, the former director of the National Archives of Angola.[4][5]

The second season explores the reign of Cleopatra, queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt.[6] Postdoctorate Black feminist and Classicist Professor Shelley P. Haley was interviewed for the second season.[7]


African Queens: Njinga (2023)[edit]

  • Adesuwa Oni as Queen Nzinga
  • Eshe Asante as Ndambi
  • Marilyn Nnadebe as Funji
  • Chipo Kureya as Kambu
  • Philips Nortey as King Mbande

Queen Cleopatra (2023)[edit]


Season overview[edit]

SeasonEpisodesOriginally released
14February 15, 2023 (2023-02-15)
24May 10, 2023 (2023-05-10)

African Queens: Njinga[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
11"Death of a King"Ethosheia HyltonPeres OwinoFebruary 15, 2023 (2023-02-15)
The life of Njinga prior to her accession, including her relationship with the Portuguese Empire's growing influence over her home.
22"Power is Not Given"Ethosheia HyltonPeres OwinoFebruary 15, 2023 (2023-02-15)
Njinga's brother and king of Ndongo, Mbandi, dies, thrusting Njinga into a powerful position.
33"The Blood Oath"Ethosheia HyltonNnenne IwujiFebruary 15, 2023 (2023-02-15)
Njinga must make sacrifices and deals in order to solidify her power, marrying an Imbangala warlord Kasanje.
44"Legacy"Ethosheia HyltonNnenne IwujiFebruary 15, 2023 (2023-02-15)
Njinga negotiates with the Portuguese to recognize her kingdom as independent.

Queen Cleopatra[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
51"Rivals"Tina GharaviPeres OwinoMay 10, 2023 (2023-05-10)
Cleopatra ascends the throne and her siblings vie for power as Julius Caesar meets her.
62"When in Rome"Tina GharaviPeres OwinoMay 10, 2023 (2023-05-10)
The birth of Caesarion and assassination plots shape Cleopatra's reign and relationship with Rome.
73"What Must Be Done"Tina GharaviNnenne IwujiMay 10, 2023 (2023-05-10)
Cleopatra forges a relationship with Ceasar's rival Mark Antony and Cleopatra participates in the Battle of Actium.
84"The Last Pharaoh"Tina GharaviNnenne IwujiMay 10, 2023 (2023-05-10)
Octavian and the Roman army target Egypt. Cleopatra dies.


The first season premiered on February 15, 2023.[3] The second season premiered on May 10, 2023.[6] With the release of each season, all episodes were released simultaneously on Netflix.


African Queens: Njinga[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 88% of 8 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 7.3/10.[8] Metacritic assigned African Queens: Njinga a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 5 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[9] Ellen E. Jones of The Guardian was critical of the first series, awarding it 2 out of 5 stars, saying that "This tale of a 17th-century African female ruler features impressive academics, but they're drowned out by poor-quality dramatic sequences. It lacks context, analysis or personality."[10] Angie Han of The Hollywood Reporter was also critical, saying that the format limited the ability to go deeply into the subject.[11] Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times, however, praised the first series and gave it three out of four stars, saying while the "jazzy score and sometimes melodramatic dialogue occasionally [interrupts] the moment[, the show] keeps us involved and heats up the often violence-soaked drama in subsequent episodes".[12] Luke Peppa of the Financial Times exclaims that, as in Njinga, with greater exposure to stories featuring African histories and myths, one might "even be inspired to create their own Africa-centric stories, [having a] wealth of stories that are yet to be told."[13]

Queen Cleopatra[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 18% of 17 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 4.6/10. The website's critics' consensus reads, "Queen Cleopatra may posit some fresh speculation about the ubiquitous monarch, but its glossy presentation errs more towards a superficial toga party than a substantive endeavor."[14] Metacritic assigned Queen Cleopatra a weighted average score of 45 out of 100, based on 5 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[15] Anita Singh of The Daily Telegraph gave it 2 out of 5 stars, saying, "It's too soapy for serious history fans, and not enough of a soap for viewers who like juicy historical dramas."[16] The Indian Express writer Rohan Naahar says that "you don't quite get an idea of who Cleopatra was as a person[...] She's projected, funnily enough, as a Beyonce-like figure." Naahar criticized the production design of the show, saying that Queen Cleopatra "[didn't] feature a single archive photograph of the palaces in which she lived, or of her many sculptures, or even paintings of her most famous conquests — both geographical and romantic."[17]


Cleopatra was played by Adele James in the second season's dramatic reenactment scenes. James is an actress of mixed Jamaican and English ancestry, which caused controversy over the depiction of Cleopatra's race.[18]

The Egyptian government responded negatively to the casting decision. Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities stated that the series represented a "falsification of Egyptian history."[2] The Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Archeology through the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities released a statement on the issue, claiming that Queen Cleopatra was "light-skinned and (had) Hellenic features." They cited Roman and Ptolemaic Greek coins, statues, and other depictions of Cleopatra as evidence, adding his complaint was "far from any ethnic racism."[19][20] Former antiquities minister and Egyptologist Zahi Hawass was critical of the second season. He said, "This is completely fake. Cleopatra was a Macedonian Greek, meaning that she was light skinned, not black," adding that "Netflix is trying to provoke confusion by spreading false and deceptive facts that the origin of the Egyptian civilisation is black."[21][22][18][23] Egyptologist Monica Hanna said that ancient Egypt "was more of a culture than it was a race."[24]

On May 9, 2023, CBS News interviewed Monica Hanna, an Egyptologist, who expressed her discontent with the film because "it is pushing an Afrocentric agenda ... imposing the identity politics of the 21st century and appropriating the ancient Egyptian past, just as the Eurocentrists and the far-right in Europe are doing".[25]

On May 14, 2023, Sara Khorshid, an Egyptian historian, criticized some responses to the media as "antiblack racism", but saying this "should not detract from legitimate criticisms of the show" as showing a Western and Orientalist bias in its depiction of Egypt.[26]

On April 21, 2023, the director Gharavi defended the casting, stating, "Doing the research, I realized what a political act it would be to see Cleopatra portrayed by a Black actress,"[21] but insisted that "what the historians can confirm is that it is more likely that Cleopatra looked like Adele than Elizabeth Taylor ever did."[27]

Islam Issa, a philosopher and the only Egyptian voice in the documentary, expressed disappointment in Gharavi's politicizing of the casting.[28]

Producers of the series stated that Cleopatra's ethnicity "is not the focus of Queen Cleopatra, but we did intentionally decide to depict her of mixed ethnicity to reflect theories about Cleopatra's possible Egyptian ancestry and the multicultural nature of ancient Egypt."[29]

Adele James questioned the validity of the concept of "blackwashing" and expressed her disappointment with racial perceptions "that people are either so self-loathing or so threatened by Blackness that they feel the need to do that, to separate Egypt from the rest of the continent".[30][31]


  1. ^ "'African Queens' Tells the Royal Stories You Haven't Heard Before". Netflix Tudum. Archived from the original on 2023-04-24. Retrieved 2023-05-11.
  2. ^ a b Yee, Vivian (2023-05-10). "Whose Queen? Netflix and Egypt Spar Over an African Cleopatra". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2023-05-12. Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  3. ^ a b "'African Queens: Njinga' trailer: Jada Pinkett Smith narrates Netflix docuseries -". UPI. Archived from the original on 2023-04-13. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  4. ^ Zornosa, Laura (2023-02-15). "A Fearless Ruler Battles the Slave Trade in Netflix's African Queens: Njinga". Time. Archived from the original on 2023-04-11. Retrieved 2023-05-14.
  5. ^ "The real-life leader behind Netflix's 'African Queens: Njinga,' as told by a Wellesley professor". News. 2023-02-16. Archived from the original on 2023-04-10. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  6. ^ a b Martin, Annie (April 12, 2023). "'Queen Cleopatra' trailer: Jada Pinkett Smith narrates new docuseries -". United Press International. Archived from the original on 2023-04-12. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  7. ^ Latif, Leila (2023-05-10). "Queen Cleopatra review – the idea that you need a white actor is utterly insidious". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-05-17.
  8. ^ "African Queens: Njinga - Rotten Tomatoes". Archived from the original on 2023-02-18. Retrieved 2023-05-10.
  9. ^ "African Queens: Njinga". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved May 15, 2023.
  10. ^ Jones, Ellen E. (2023-02-15). "African Queens: Njinga review – Jada Pinkett Smith's docudrama is like a mediocre Channel 5 show". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 2023-03-22. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  11. ^ Han, Angie (2023-02-15). "'African Queens: Njinga' Review: Jada Pinkett Smith's Compelling Netflix Docu-Drama Hybrid Leaves You Wanting More". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2023-03-21. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  12. ^ Roeper, Richard (2023-02-14). "'African Queens: Njinga': Captivating Netflix series traces a crafty, deadly rise to power". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 2023-04-15. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  13. ^ "From 'The Woman King' to Netflix's 'African Queens' — how Africa's history went pop". Financial Times. 2023-03-11. Archived from the original on 2023-03-11. Retrieved 2023-04-18.
  14. ^ "Queen Cleopatra". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on May 12, 2023. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
  15. ^ "Queen Cleopatra: Season 1". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved May 15, 2023.
  16. ^ Singh, Anita (2023-05-03). "Netflix's controversial Queen Cleopatra will end up pleasing nobody". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 2023-05-10. Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  17. ^ "Queen Cleopatra review: Controversial Netflix documentary deserves to be buried in a crypt". The Indian Express. 2023-05-12. Archived from the original on 2023-05-12. Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  18. ^ a b Gritten, David (2023-04-19). "Egyptians complain over Netflix depiction of Cleopatra as black". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2023-04-19. Retrieved 2023-04-19.
  19. ^ Butterfield, Michelle (2023-04-28). "A Black Queen Cleopatra? Egyptians lash out at Netflix's depiction". Global News. Archived from the original on 2023-04-29. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  20. ^ Gubash, Charlene; Smith, Patrick (2023-04-28). "Cleopatra was not Black, Egypt tells Netflix ahead of new series". NBC News. Archived from the original on 2023-04-29. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  21. ^ a b Saad, Nardine (2023-04-21). "Director of Netflix series starring a Black Cleopatra fires back at Egyptian backlash". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2023-04-25. Retrieved 2023-04-26.
  22. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (2023-04-20). "Cleopatra's African Heritage in Netflix Docudrama Sparks Uproar in Egypt". Variety. Archived from the original on 2023-04-20. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  23. ^ "Cleopatra was not black". Retrieved 30 June 2023.
  24. ^ Saad, Nardine (10 May 2023). "After backlash to Netflix's Black 'Queen Cleopatra,' Egypt plans counterprogramming". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 5, 2023.
  25. ^ "Why some Egyptians are fuming over Netflix's Black Cleopatra". CBS News. May 25, 2023.
  26. ^ Korshid, Sara (14 May 2023). "Why Netflix's 'Queen Cleopatra' Has Egypt up in Arms". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 17 June 2023.
  27. ^ "Netflix's 'Cleopatra' director defends Black casting: 'What Bothers You So Much About a Black Cleopatra?'". Fox News. 23 April 2023. Retrieved July 1, 2023.
  28. ^ Issa, Islam (1 May 2023). "Cleopatra was Egyptian — whether Black or brown matters less". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 16 June 2023.
  29. ^ "Queen Cleopatra actress Adele James talks 'blackwashing'". CBS. 12 May 2023. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  30. ^ France, Lisa Respers (12 May 2023). "'Queen Cleopatra' actress Adele James talks 'blackwashing'". CNN. Archived from the original on 12 May 2023. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  31. ^ Vlessing, Etan (11 May 2023). "Adele James Talks Netflix's Controversial 'Queen Cleopatra' Series: "Blackwashing Isn't a Thing"". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 12 May 2023. Retrieved 12 May 2023.

External links[edit]