British actor Benedict Cumberbatch of “Doctor Strange” fame was warned by his mother not to use his real name professionally because he may one day be subject to reparations claims for his ancestors’ slaveholding history in Barbados.
According to a report by The Daily Telegraph, Cumberbatch’s mother, actress Wanda Ventham, “encouraged him not to use his real name in his acting career because she was concerned that he could face claims for reparations over family links to slavery.”
The Oscar nominee, who also portrayed a slaveowner in the slave narrative-turned film “12 Years A Slave,” had historical references to pull from. His ancestors purchased the Cleland plantation in 1728 and owned 250 enslaved people for over a century until slavery in Barbados was abolished in 1834.
The family also received compensation that would be valued at over 1.2 million pounds today for their “loss of property.”
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The Cumberbathes are one of several wealthy and prominent white families potentially facing calls for reparations from the Barbadian government for their roles in the slave trade. The island Republic has been ramping up demands and taking action to hold the descendants of enslavers accountable for their role in the brutal institution.
British parliament member Richard Drax is among those Barbados is requesting atonement from for his family’s hundreds of years of slave ownership on the island. In November 2022, Drax traveled to Barbados to meet Prime Minister Mia Mottley to discuss ways to atone for his family’s pivotal role in slavery.
David Comissiong is the Barbados ambassador to Caricom and deputy chairman of its National Task Force on Reparations. In an interview last year, he spoke about the reparative justice journey te island is on.
“It is now a matter that is before the government of Barbados,” Comissiong told The Guardian last year about Drax. “It is being dealt with at the highest level.” He also referenced “other families” that may be deemed responsible for a debt, but the Cumberbatch family was not mentioned by name.
“Other families are involved, though not as prominently as the Draxes. This reparations journey has begun. The matter is now for the cabinet of Barbados. It is in motion. It is being dealt with,” Comissiong added.
Comissiong was unhappy about the way he says the Telegraph skewed his responses. He clarified his position in an op-ed published in Barbados Today on Monday, Jan. 2.
“It is clear to me that Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper has commenced upon a mission to concoct its own narrative about Barbados’ Reparations Campaign,” Comissiong began his op-ed. He added that the Telegraph’s “modus operandi” is to take Barbadian officials’ quotes “out of context, thereby effectively putting words in one’s mouth.”
“A good example of the technique is the Daily Telegraph journalist asking me if Barbados intends to pursue a Reparations claim against the family of someone named Benedict Cumberbatch, and when one answers that one does not know who Benedict Cumberbatch is nor anything about his family’s supposed involvement in slavery in Barbados, that answer is reported as my having asserted that Barbados has not ruled out pursuing a Reparations claim against Mr Cumberbatch and his family!” Comissiong wrote.
He went on to clarify the specifics of his government and CARICOM’s Reparatory Justice campaign.
An undated photo of Benedict Cumberbatch being held by his mother, Wanda Ventham, when he was a child. (Facebook: Benedict Cumberbatch)
Benedict Cumberbatch arrives at the AFI Awards Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif., on March 11, 2022. Cumberbatch narrates “Super/Natural,” a six-part series from National Geographic on Disney+. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File) Benedict Cumberbatch arrives at the AFI Awards Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif., on March 11, 2022. Cumberbatch narrates “Super/Natural,” a six-part series from National Geographic on Disney+. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)