I read a critics review regarding our movie Exceptional Beings and between the words, the writer seemed disturbed by the characters Athena and Methuselah. In a movie with over 30 named characters, the reviewer had an issue with two major characters, played by black actors. In his defense, I understand the sense of ownership of characters; I might get uncomfortable if a white actor played a nonfictional character like Garrett Morgan. So, let us build on the pseudo-core of his article, why make a movie with a black Athena and a black Methuselah.
Let us talk about Athena. I sometimes believe characters; especially movie characters become symbols and essentially deserve to be held unto. However, I also believe in revelations of truths, now, that said, one person’s truth is different from another. The world has become a place where the truth is not absolute. I believe the most dangerous people in the world are historians who change history to benefit themselves. Athena is a very intriguing character; Marvel has their own version of her: “Thena”; the Romans had their own version of her: “Minerva”. I ponder why the Egyptian version of Athena, “Neith”, is an issue. Developed society is a composite of recycled things that work, technology, language even the concept of love, evolves. All these might be an issue with Athena getting her origin from Egypt, with history so strong, you begin to ponder why Julius Caesar did not do more to prevent the burning down of the library of Alexandria in 48 BC in Egypt. Some historians claim it was the spoils of war. Athena in “Exceptional Beings” has her roots from the Egyptian goddess of war, Neith. I should emphasize, the character of Athena, as she is loved today, is an amalgamation of not only Egyptians and the Greek, but also the Romans, the British and even Hollywood.
Let us talk about Methuselah. I have never seen a black representation of the man, honestly, I can only attest to his portrayal by the Great Sir Anthony Hopkins in Noah. I am not going to impose my belief on this article, so for the interest of the argument, let us look at Methuselah, as a character, fictional or non-fictional, will not be prerequisite. The oldest verified human fossils found in the world were found in Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania, not to mention some of the oldest bones are the “Omo One” bones in Ethiopia. Some historians claim, Methuselah was born in Ancient Near East, which is somewhere in or around Modern Middle East, which is a faulty theory. Based on the 450-350 BCE Torah, he is seven generations removed from the first man and the first human existences so far, were found in East Africa. Not to mention, the Exodus migration, was about leaving Egypt through the red sea. The red sea is a narrow inland sea between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa. The exodus was about leaving Africa not going into it. Anyway, I might have shot myself in the foot bringing up science, Christian texts have our existence from Biblical Adam at about 4,023 years and science has us about 190,000 BCE. That is a story for another day.
Let us talk about why I am writing this. I came across these arguments by two men, regarding Cleopatra. Zahai Hawass an Egyptologist and former antiquities minister, claims the portrayals on Netflix’s “Queen Cleopatra” was completely fake, Cleopatra was Greek, meaning she was light skinned, and not black. The Lawyer Mahmoud al-Semary also filed a complaint demanding Netflix be removed because they are trying to promote the Afrocentric thinking. Now apparently, we are aware these Gentlemen did not file any lawsuit against “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, with a mostly white cast. They do have people who see things from their point of view, and they might believe they have to fight for this identity because they probably see themselves closer to the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra. Nevertheless, a few things stuck out to me. The woman playing Cleopatra is Adele James, her mother is white and father is black, if that does not define light skinned, probably Zahai definition of light skinned is white. The next thing is, the actor’s complexion is lighter than a lot of Egyptians, so it’s not about the color of her skin in relation to the Egyptians. Another thing is, “the Afrocentric thinking”, which I think is the core of their argument, gives the desperate perception to remove any connection with Africa, even though they live in the continent Africa. Their assumed outlook on this argument is so strong, that even the idea that Cleopatra who is nine generations from Ptolemy I Soter, in an environment with intermarriages, could not be a product of marriages with local Egyptians.
Let us talk about Exceptional Beings; it is a movie my producing partner Justin Ifeanyi Morgan and I made, interweaving African, Greek and Roman mythology, in modern times. The ironic part in all this is, the Ancient Greeks did not use race or the color of the skin to define what made someone Greek, it was about the culture. I remember an interview Barbara Walters had with President Obama, and she asked, “Your mother was white, wouldn’t it be helpful, why don’t you say, I am not a black president, I am bi-racial” He essentially said, the people in the basketball court see me that way. If he had said he was not black, nobody would have called him black today. Fact is, “Black” has no color, there are blacks, whiter than Caucasians and there are blacks blacker than the people of Egypt. There are no borders to blackness and I agree that is not the case for every other race. However, wouldn’t it be a beautiful world if we could live like the Golden era of the Greeks, when a Greek was anyone who adopted the culture.
Exceptional Beings will be released in France August 2023. It is presently available in North America on iTunes and Amazon. Full interview by Ciarra Carter, Jean Charles, Justin Ifeanyi Morgan and Njedeh Anthony on their characters, Methuselah and Athena in Exceptional Beings, is available by clicking here