Benedict Cumberbatch Facing Fine For Slave-Owning Ancestors

Benedict Cumberbatch may face legal demands from Barbados for the actions of his slave-owning ancestors.

By Nathan Kamal | Updated

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Marvel star Benedict Cumberbatch may soon be facing legal action seeking reparations for his ancestors, who were wealthy slave owners in Barbados, according to The Daily Beast. In November 2021, the Caribbean nation became an independent republic after nearly 400 years of rule by the British monarchy and is reported to begin seeking financial compensation from the descendants of families who made their wealth during the centuries of colonial occupation and slavery. As one of the most famous film stars in the world, Benedict Cumberbatch is likely to be notable on that list.

The government of Barbados recently announced plans to seek reparations from a member of the British Parliament whose ancestors owned Drax Hall, one of the few remaining operating sugar plantations on the island. If British MP Richard Drax refuses to voluntarily compensate the nation for the wealth taken by his slave-owning ancestors, the plan is to bring the case to an international court. At that point, if Barbados is successful, it will likely do the same to individuals like Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Benedict Cumberbatch has openly acknowledged that he is the descendant of Abraham Parry Cumberbatch, who became enormously wealthy from a slave-operated sugar plantation. The Doctor Strange actor has said his mother at one point suggested that he use a stage name, to somewhat obscure his identity; in addition to his slave-owning ancestor, a number of people in his family were prominent members of British high society and he is a distant cousin of King Richard III.

As such, his fame and wealth make him a prominent example of the kinds of individuals who may face financial consequences for the actions of their ancestors. The concept of people like Benedict Cumberbatch being required to give reparations for the wealth their families earned by owning slaves is a very controversial one, and it will be interesting to see what actually happens in the future. Notably, while Benedict Cumberbatch’s family no longer owns their former plantation, they were heavily financially compensated by the British government when U.K. slavery was abolished in 1833.

For its part, Barbados states that the funds given in reparation will be used to help develop the infrastructure of the island nation. Benedict Cumberbatch has not commented on any impending reparation requests, though he has often disavowed the actions of his ancestors (to the point of alluding to his role in the drama 12 Years a Slave might have been a kind of contrition).

benedict cumberbatch doctor strange 2

Currently, Benedict Cumberbatch has been announced to appear in at least one more Marvel Cinematic Universe movie as Doctor Stephen Strange, the much-anticipated Avengers: Secret Wars. Likely, he will appear in more MCU movies between now and the release of Secret Wars in 2026 (barring the increasingly frequent delays of film releases), as well as a number of non-Marvel projects. Benedict Cumberbatch has been announced to play the title character in The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar, based on the works of Roald Dahl and directed by Wes Anderson.