From MRU to the Netflix home page

General education professor appears in Alexander the Great docu-drama



Those scrolling through Netflix’s new releases category and familiar with Mount Royal’s faculty may have recently chanced upon a familiar face. Alexander: The Making of a God is a six episode docu-drama exploring the life of Alexander the Great through reenactments and expert testimony. Among the experts featured is MRU assistant professor of general education, Dr. Carolyn Willekes, PhD, who appears throughout the series.

Willekes researches historic horse-human connections and has spent a lot of time studying the cavalry of Alexander the Great.  She was initially contacted by a production company in the fall of 2021 to serve “... sort of as a historical consultant. They were doing research into the history and life of Alexander the Great for the scriptwriting to frame the drama part of this series and they wanted to make sure they were trying to be as historically accurate as possible by obtaining as much information as they could,” she explains, adding that this is pretty standard practice for these types of productions.

That involved a lot of back-and-forth through virtual meetings, which were recorded so producers could reference them to ensure accuracy. Willekes was then asked to take part in the series itself, appearing onscreen and sharing her knowledge and insight on Alexander and his life.

Willekes flew to London in March of 2023 to film her parts, which took place over one 10-hour day in the studio where she was interviewed and  asked questions about every aspect of Alexander’s life and career. It was a fun but grueling day, with Willekes’ knowledge and improv skills put to the test as she condensed detailed facts into accessible sound bites on the fly.

The series premiered globally on Jan. 31 and Willekes says seeing and hearing herself in the preview for the show was surreal, noting it’s not something she ever imagined doing. Taking part in a Netflix series isn’t a traditional academic venture, however she says it opens up the story of Alexander to many more people, some of whom might not have had any prior interest in Greek or ancient Mediterranean history.

“In academia, the emphasis from grad school onwards is on the importance of writing peer-reviewed articles and books and participating in academic conferences. This is a very important part of what we do, but the audience for this is very, very small and these resources can be challenging for a general audience to access because of costs and other restrictions. Whereas platforms like Netflix can use documentaries to open up the story to a much broader audience, and this is really important because it can light a spark that drives a deeper interest into the topic.”

Willekes says she often asks her students what their first introduction was to the ancient world, and she says the answer is almost always a pop culture reference, whether it be a novel series, TV show, video game, film or documentary series.

“I am a huge proponent of public education, and I believe in the importance of sharing my knowledge with as many people as I can. This Netflix series has provided me with a pretty amazing opportunity to do this.”