Israeli actress and “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot is no stranger to controversy, but the current brouhaha surrounding her latest project seems to have taken even her by surprise. The stir arose after it was announced on Sunday that she had been cast as the lead in “Cleopatra,” a historical drama about the legendary queen of Egypt produced by Paramount.
Revealing that she would be teaming up again with “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins in the epic, she told the Twittersphere that she was happy “to bring the story of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, to the big screen in a way she’s never been seen before. To tell her story for the first time through women’s eyes, both behind and in front of the camera.”
Though Gadot may have thought she would elicit cheers for her feminism, she was treated instead to a cacophony of booing and hissing.
Her many and varied detractors were divided into two categories: the vicious BDS-ers with a long-standing grudge against her because she’s from Israel, and the “woke” choir, obsessed with “white privilege” and “cultural appropriation,” in art as in life. To such fanatics, poetic license is taboo unless it involves rewriting history in the direction that they deem politically acceptable.
A sample of responses to her innocent tweet is illustrative.
Take the comment posted by self-described “father/writer/Prince fan/proud to hate Trump #Biden/Harris 2020” Tony LaFace, for example, who wrote: “Another attempt to white wash [sic] a historical figure! U are a white Isreali [sic] woman. Cleopatra was MACEDONIAN and EGYPTIAN. Its [sic] awful how u deny important roles to women of color!!!!”
Then there’s Egyptian singer and radio/TV host Wael Mansour, whose more succinct remark was equally inane: “Can’t wait to boycott this white washing [sic] disaster, so many wrongs!”
Someone nicknamed “Fashionable Mom” contributed: “The day you stop trying to hijack and rewrite the history of the different peoples of this world and insert your likeness as an ideal is the day you will start to create history for yourselves. Cleopatra was a great woman and she was an African woman, an Egyptian woman!”
Content creator Dicc Flair said: “Yup … ANOTHER WHITE WASHED [sic] Movie Filmed in Africa w/ALL WHITE CASTS. The darker skinned as the underlings. CLEOPATRA WAS “BLACK.”
That the real Cleopatra actually was Greek made no difference to these ignorant social-media pundits. They had a point to make, and that was all that mattered.
If Gadot hadn’t just been listed by Forbes magazine as the third highest-paid actress in the world in 2020—mostly as a result of earnings from the yet-to-be-released Netflix film “Red Notice”—one might feel sorry for her. She is a true bleeding heart, after all, whose desire to play Cleopatra had nothing to do with race or creed.
It’s common for Israeli liberals to experience a rude awakening when their politics don’t protect them from the wrath of their country’s enemies abroad. Gadot got a hefty dose of reality in 2014, for instance, when she dared to voice solidarity for her people and condemn the terrorist group trying to wipe them out.
During “Operation Protective Edge”—Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza—Gadot got raked over the coals by Palestinians and their apologists for an Instagram photo of herself and her daughter lighting Shabbat candles, with the accompanying text: “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! #weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror.”
Suddenly, the international sensation with a sexy Hebrew lilt was blasted for having served in the Israel Defense Forces and—gasp—being proud of it. This was a huge no-no for the BDS crowd, who began to accuse her of war crimes.
Luckily for Gadot, her box-office success was of greater interest to her Hollywood studio than her country of origin or the fact that her military duty involved teaching calisthenics to combat troops. If anything—as she herself has said in interviews—her fitness prepared her for the role with which she has become synonymous.
Even if she had been a commando, however, she would have been at a loss in the face of American “woke” culture, in which the pen has become stiff competition for the sword. What she ought to have learned by now, after so much time among progressive bullies in the United States, is that the animosity she’s currently experiencing cannot be countered through appeasement.
Indeed, she can argue that Cleopatra was a descendant of Macedonian Greek general Ptolemy; she can shout “Joe Biden for president” from the rooftop of her L.A. mansion; and she can work to reassure her social-media followers that her main mission is to promote female empowerment—you know, in the vein of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose Sept. 18 passing spurred her to thank the late judge on Instagram “for everything [she] brought to this world,” and to punctuate the tribute with a broken-heart emoji.
None of the above would or does suffice for the radicals bent on discrediting her, not only as a fair-skinned Israeli, but as someone who hasn’t gone far enough to the left. Short of renouncing her roots and refusing the cinematic role of her dreams, there’s nothing she can do to satiate their cancel-culture hunger.
But she might want to consider expressing a bit of gratitude to the slew of conservatives engaging in ideological warfare on her behalf. That would make her a genuine superhero.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”