EXCLUSIVE: Netflix has given a two-season order to a hybrid docuseries about African Queens, from Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Studios and Nutopia, with Pinkett Smith set to executive produce.
Written by Peres Owino (Bound: Africans vs African-Americans) and NneNne Iwuji (Yellow), the as-yet untitled series will focus on a different queen each season — starting with Cleopatra in Season 1 and Njinga in Season 2 — blending expert interviews and other documentary content with premium scripted docudrama/re-enactments.
“As the mother of a young Black woman, it is immensely important to me that she learns the lessons of the African Queens who paved the way for our success and the success of generations of Black women,” said Pinkett Smith. “I am very passionate and excited about bringing the stories and lessons of these powerful women to light in order to showcase their strength, leadership, and undeniable influence on history.”
The first season will cover the life of Cleopatra, the world’s most famous, powerful, and misunderstood
woman — a daring queen whose beauty and romances came to overshadow her real asset: her intellect. Cleopatra’s heritage has been the subject of much academic debate, which has often been ignored by Hollywood. The series will re-assess that part of her story, engaging in the ongoing discussion.
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Cleopatra was believed to be a descendant of the Ptolemaic dynasty, which would give her Greek and possibly Persian ancestry but there have been theories that she might have been part North African. The often cited 1946 book by J.A. Rogers “World’s Great Men Of Color” argues that she may have been Black. On screen, Cleopatra has been portrayed by white American and European as well as Middle Eastern actresses, including Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Sophia Loren and Monica Bellucci, with Angelina Jolie and Gal Gadot more recently attached to portray the ancient queen.
Season two will feature Njinga, the complex, captivating, and fearless 17th century warrior queen of Matamba and Ndongo, in modern day Angola. The nation’s first female ruler, Njinga earned a reputation for her blend of political and diplomatic skill with military prowess and became an icon of resistance.
The docuseries will be a co-production of Westbrook Studios and Nutopia. Pinkett Smith, Miguel Melendez, Terence Carter, Sahara Bushue and David Boorstein will executive produce for Westbrook Studios, along with Jane Root and Ben Goold for Nutopia.
Pinkett Smith is the host and executive producer of Facebook’s No. 1 show Red Table Talk, alongside her daughter, Willow Smith, and mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris. She has finished production on The Matrix 4, in which she reprises her role as Niobe. The film, whose title and first trailer were revealed at CinemaCon this week, will be released worldwide December 22. Pinkett Smith also executive produced Charm City Kings, which had its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
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