Actor Benedict Cumberbatch may have to pay for his family’s slave-owning past in Barbados

The former British colony is seeking reparations from the descendants of slave owners, who were handsomely compensated when slavery was abolished

Benedict Cumberbatch on March 9.
Benedict Cumberbatch on March 9.Chelsea Guglielmino (Getty)

British actor Benedict Cumberbatch may have to pay for his family’s slave-owning past in Barbados. The former British colony is seeking reparations from the family members of slave owners, and according to The Telegraph, that includes the Sherlock star. The actor is the descendant of Joshua Cumberbatch, who bought the Cleland sugar plantation in northern Barbados in 1728. The plantation reportedly exploited 250 slaves and remained under the family’s control for almost a century, becoming the foundation of the their fortune.

“Any descendants of white plantation owners who have benefitted from the slave trade should be asked to pay reparations, including the Cumberbatch family,” David Denny, the general secretary of the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration, told The Telegraph.

When slavery was abolished in 1834, the British government compensated slave owners for the loss of their so-called “property.” The Cumberbatch family received £6,000 in compensation, a figure equivalent today to around $1.1 million, according to The Telegraph.

In recent months, Barbados – which declared itself an independent republic in November 2021 after nearly 400 years under British rule – has been working to create a commission in charge of seeking reparations from the families of slave owners. Denny told The Telegraph that this money would go towards supporting hospitals and schools, and to improving infrastructure and housing.

Cumberbatch said that he decided to star in Amazing Grace (2006), a film about British parliamentarian William Wilberforce’s fight against the slave trade, and the Oscar-winning movie 12 Years a Slave (2013) because he felt remorse about his ancestors’ involvement in the slave trade. The Oscar-nominated actor also revealed that his mother once urged him not to use his real name professionally out of fear that he would become the target of reparations claims, as stated by The Guardian following the premiere of 12 Years a Slave.

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