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Why Hollywood star Benedict Cumberbatch may face slave reparations

Hollywood star Benedict Cumberbatch.
Benedict Cumberbatch's ancestors have a sordid history. (Source: Getty)

Benedict Cumberbatch has made no secret of his family’s sordid past as slave owners - his distant relative Abraham Cumberbatch purchased a sprawling sugar plantation in Barbados in 1728.

That plantation alone enslaved 250 people, and was the main source of the Cumberbatch family's wealth for generations.

After the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833 the Cumberbatch family received £5,388 (AU$9,593) in compensation. According to the Bank of England’s (BoE) inflation calculator that would be the equivalent of £478,362.62 (AU$851,780) today.

Benedict Cumberbatch has not shied away from his family’s dark past, having spoken openly about it in an interview back in 2007.

"When I became an actor, Mum wasn't keen on me keeping it [the Cumberbatch surname]. 'They'll be after you for money', she used to say," he said.

"Reparation cases are ongoing in the American courts."

Would Cumberbatch have to pay reparations?

Not as of yet, but organisations devoted to righting the wrongs of slavery are working to seek reparations - even if it does come from the descendants.

"Any descendants of white plantation owners who have benefited from the slave trade should be asked to pay reparations, including the Cumberbatch family," Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration general secretary David Denny told the UK Telegraph.

However, Barbados politician and activist David Comissiong said reparations would be mostly sought from government entities and companies rather than specific families.

“To date, neither [the Caribbean Community’s reparations commission] nor Barbados has officially leveled a Reparations claim against a European family,” Comissiong wrote in an op-ed for Barbados Today.

“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.”

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