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Descendent of the Enslaved Speaks Out on Reparations From Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil in Power of the Dog

With all the hustle of the end of the year, you may have missed when the Telegraph reported that Benedict Cumberbatch and the Cumberbatch family were facing reparations claims from Barbados. The actor—who starred in movies like 12 Years a Slave and has openly talked about how he did so because of his own guilt for his ancestors and their connection to the slave trade—has had a string of moments in his career when his family’s history has been brought up.

He was called out for calling Black actors “colored actors” in an interview in 2015, and the New York Times also reported that he said, in a 2007 interview, that his mother had advised him not to use his real surname professionally, because he might attract the attention of those seeking reparations. All this to say that it isn’t a secret that Cumberbatch’s family owned slaves at some point, so when the Telegraph published an article saying that Cumberbatch and his family would be facing reparation claims, it wasn’t exactly a surprise.

But since then, quotes that were used in the Telegraph have been clarified. “To date, neither [the Caribbean Community’s reparations commission] nor Barbados has officially leveled a Reparations claim against a European family,” wrote David Comissiong, a politician and activist in Barbados, in Barbados Today. Comissiong went to talk about how it was easier for the task force to focus on larger entities like governments and companies rather than a family, and explained that he was misquoted. Earlier in the statement, Comissiong shamed the journalist who took his words and misrepresented what he said.

“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!”

Still, fans have questions for Cumberbatch

He took on the role in 12 Years a Slave because he was sorry about his family’s history, but … he got paid, so how does that work?

But while he may be at least recognizing his family’s history, it should also be noted that there are people with direct ties to Cumberbatch’s family and the plantation—which had slaves until 1834, when slavery was abolished in Barbados—out there right now.

The video states that when user @kuhdeejuh_ tracked her family history as far as it could go, she found her Cumberbatch lineage that connected back to when slavery was still allowed in Barbados, and even went on to say that she didn’t know of anyone white with that last name prior to seeing Benedict Cumberbatch’s rise to fame.

Is Benedict Cumberbatch going to pay reparations?

No. That’s the short answer, according to the clarified quote—at least not right now. In the future, who knows? His family could see claims and rightfully so. But as for how reparations are currently handled, Comissiong was misquoted in the Telegraph, and it seems as if the commission isn’t pursuing individual families.

The news has, however, opened up a lot of conversations about Cumberbatch’s family history and his previous comments once more. And with the video from @kuhdeejuh_ on TikTok, it is obvious that it would be possible to do more than just make empty gestures for the descendants of the people Cumberbatch’s family enslaved, so this is hopefully not the end and is something worth following.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast.