The portrayal of ancient Egyptians in film and television

The portrayal of ancient Egyptians through film and television has been a source of immense controversy for many years. Often presented as having very European characteristics in all media, without any solid factual evidence. I examine the relationship between the media and colonialist messages through film and television that have managed to hold their own to the present day.

From Exodus: Gods And Kings to The Mummy, darker-skinned characters have been notoriously left out in narratives or fictional stories. The most infamous example is Cleopatra in 1922. Historians, Egyptologists and anthropologists have attributed this to several factors with a guideline running throughout.

Egyptologist and assistant curator of the Baden Museum in California, Jess Johnson, said of the phenomenon in a reflective article: “Egyptology, the study of language, history, art and the civilization of ancient Egypt, is a discipline rooted in European and American traditions. colonialism. It is a discipline constructed by those in power, originally founded by white men, and often twisted to fit their agendas. The founding Egyptologists defined ancient Egypt by its relationship with the West. The West, in the early formation of Egyptology as a discipline, included France, Germany, and Britain; they were the colonial powers at the time. I suggest that Western scholars have been influenced by their countries’ colonialist agendas and cultural background to emphasize the separation of ancient Egypt from Africa.

She continued, “I would suggest that the initial separation of ancient Egypt from Africa by European scholars not only advanced the colonialist agenda of denying Egypt’s ‘Africanness’, but also reinforced the justification of slavery in the United States by implicitly countering the idea that the ancient culture of Egypt was an African culture. The cultural framework in which early Egyptology existed created a basis from which its perception could continue to impact scholarship. American scholars adopted European definitions of the relationship between Egypt and the West and used this mentality to support an atmosphere conducive to slavery.

With today’s prominent voices increasingly vocal about why this portrayal continued after Europe’s most misunderstood colonialist era, the dishonest and deceitful interpretation of history by specific Europeans of the time was noted as the primary cause.

At a UNESCO conference in 1974, historian and anthropologist Professor Cheikh Anta Diop challenged the notion of several European historians on the issue and their desire to discredit Africa. Diop used the specific writings of many Greek and Latin writers who visited Egypt at the time and described the ancient Egyptians. Specifically choose European writers so that they are not discredited.

Among the examples, the most direct is that of the Greek historian and philosopher Herodotus who describes the Colchians of the shores of the Black Sea as “Egyptians by race” and specifies that they have “dark skin and frizzy hair”.

Another note was Apollodorus, the Greek philosopher, who described Egypt as “the land of black feet.” Latin historian Ammianus Marcellinus said, “The men of Egypt are mostly brown or black with a lean, parched look.”

Diop also said in his review that Egyptians even describe themselves as black and that there are very close resemblances between the ancient Egyptian dialect and current languages ​​in Africa.

Kemet (Kmt), the name of ancient Egypt, is referenced by current traditional scholars to translate as “black” or “black country”. Some European scholars in particular went so far as to counter this saying it was more in reference to the black fertile land the kingdom sat on due to the Nile. This theory is noted by some as correct but yet has no factual evidence in the sense that it was definitely the interpretation of the word.

The continued and direct assault on ancient Egyptian history is further evidenced in the statues, with facial features popularized among those with darker skin being frequently defaced throughout history, with evidence that he was committed to concealing the race of those whom the objects depicted.

Commenting in the Smithsonian Magazine on who can tell the story of ancient Egypt, the archaeologist, Egyptologist and former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs in Egypt said: “People had been sleeping for years, and now they are woke up,” he said. “I am on [Westerners] have nightmares of what happened: bringing Africa’s history and heritage to their countries without any rights. They have no right to have this heritage in their country. »

Although there were notions that what was done during colonialism was atrocious, there were never any specific apologies offered by heads of state (mainly due to the potential precedent that it creates for reparations), and more importantly, the ideology behind the barbaric effort isn’t talked about nearly as much as it should when it comes to the mendacious tropes it entails.

The ripple effect these tropes have had throughout society has been steadily destructive. Continuing to perpetuate negative notions across the world, with many not knowing how they arose.

Speaking to Shadow & Act, film historian Donald Bogle said of the continued stereotypical portrayals in Hollywood: “It’s important to continually talk about this stuff and hopefully we will eventually eradicate it, but no, it has not disappeared.”

The media and entertainment industry has a responsibility to inform the public, and we must ask ourselves if we are doing enough to demystify the horrific nuances left by colonialism, the whitewashing of ancient Egypt being a prime example.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button