A recent story going around claimed that actor Benedict Cumberbatch, whose ancestors are known to have owned slaves on the island of Barbados back in the 18th and 19th centuries, was facing potential reparations as a result of this family history. While it is true that there are active efforts underway in Barbados and elsewhere to attempt economic reparations for centuries of slavery in the historical record, an official in the Barbadian government has denied that Cumberbatch is a part of those attempts.
Politician David Comissiong took to the op-ed section of Barbados Today to clarify statements he is purported to have made in the Telegraph story, saying he was taken out of context and his true meaning misconstrued:
“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!”
Commissiong, who holds the position of Deputy Chairperson of the National Task Force on Reparations in Barbados, says that contrary to the Telegraph story, the task force isn’t attempting to enact reparations from the “Dr. Strange” star:
“To date, neither CARICOM nor Barbados has officially leveled a Reparations claim against a European family.
“And, clearly, the reason is that it is much easier to establish a Reparations claim against a legal entity such as a national Government or a company than it is against a family. A family, after all, may be subject to all types of discontinuities and admixtures over an extensive period of time.”
The exception to that statement lies in the case of Richard Drax, a wealthy British member of parliament and owner of the Drax Hall plantation on the island.
Cumberbatch has commented on his family ties to slavery in the past. In a 2007 interview with the Scotsman, he spoke on the difficult subject:
“There are lots of Cumberbatches in our former Caribbean colonies…When their ancestors lost their African names, they called themselves after their masters. Reparation cases are ongoing in the American courts. I’ve got friends involved in researching this scar on human history and I’ve spoken to them about it. The issue of how far you should be willing to atone is interesting. I mean, it’s not as if I’m making a profit from the suffering — it’s not like it’s Nazi money.”
However, Cumberbatch has not commented on the recent reparations story as of this writing.