Benedict Cumberbatch's family may be forced to pay reparations to Barbados. The Doctor Strange actor's ancestors ran a plantation with slaves that reportedly earned them a small fortune during the 18th and 19th centuries. Now, the government of Barbados is ramping up efforts for reparations from the ancestors of former slave owners, including Cumberbatch.
Cumberbatch's seventh great-grandfather bought the Cleland plantation in the north of Barbados in 1728, reports The Telegraph. It was home to 250 slaves until slavery was abolished in 1833. His ancestors were paid thousands of pounds in compensation when slavery was abolished. The U.K. government took out a loan to pay slaveowners, and it was not paid off until 2015.
"This is at the earliest stages. We are just beginning. A lot of this history is only really now coming to light," David Comissiong, Barbados' ambassador to the Caribbean community and deputy chairman of the island's national commission on reparations, told The Telegraph when asked if the government plans on asking Cumberbatch's family for reparations.
Barbados became a republic last year after removing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. In November, The Guardian reported that the government is targeting U.K. MP Richard Drax for reparations. Drax reportedly traveled to Barbados for a private meeting with Prime Minister Mia Mottley. Her cabinet now has a report explaining the next steps in case the government cannot reach an agreement with Drax to make him the first person to pay reparations for his family's role in slavery.
If the issue cannot be resolved we would take legal action in the international courts," Barbados MP Trevor Prescod, who is leading the country's National Task Force on Reparations, told The Guardian. "The case against the Drax family would be for hundreds of years of slavery, so it's likely any damages would go well beyond the value of the land." Barbados' National Task Force is part of the Caricom Reparations Commission, established by Caribbean countries to campaign for reparations from former colonial powers.
"Drax is fabulously wealthy today. The Drax family is the central family in the whole story of enslavement in Barbados," Commisong told The Guardian in November. "They are the architects of slavery-based sugar production. They have a deep historical responsibility. The process has only just begun and we trust that we will be able to negotiate. If that doesn't work, there are other methods, including litigation."
The 12 Years a Slave actor has not been shy about mentioning his family's ties to slavery. In 2008, he "half-jokingly" told The Guardian that his decision to play abolitionist Willaim Pitt the Younger in Amazing Grace (2006) was "a sort of apology" for his family's history. In a 2007 interview, Cumberbatch also said his mother suggested he not use his real last name professionally because of its ties to slavery. In 2014, after Stacey Cumberbatch became New York City's commissioner of citywide administrative services, she told the New York Times she was distantly related to the actor because her ancestors were slaves owned by Cumberbatch's ancestors.