Benedict Cumberbatch’s Use Of The Word ‘Coloured’ Reawakens Controversy About His Ancestors’ Dark Ties To The Slave Trade

Although Benedict Cumberbatch has apologised profusely for appearing on U.S. television and using the word “coloured” to describe black people, the resulting race storm which followed has stirred up fresh controversy regarding the Cumberbatch family’s dark ties to the slave trade.

The Daily Mail reports that the 12 Years A Slave star appeared on the Tavis Smiley show and spoke about what he perceives as the lack of diversity on British screens.

“I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK. A lot of my friends have had more opportunities here (in the US) than in the UK and that’s something that needs to change.”

In the aftermath of last Wednesday’s interview, Cumberbatch was condemned by hundreds of people who took to social media to share their contempt for the Oscar nominated actor’s choice of words.




Having the “incorrect” and “offensive” use of the term pointed out to him, Cumberbatch issued a statement last night apologising for calling black people “coloured.”

“I’m devastated to have caused offence by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I feel the complete fool I am and while I am sorry to have offended people and to learn from my mistakes in such a public manner please be assured I have. I apologise again to anyone who I offended for this thoughtless use of inappropriate language about an issue which affects friends of mine and which I care about deeply.”

Benedict’s apology holds no currency in some quarters and one commentator on the Daily Mail website going by the name of a “Thoughtful Man” and stating their location as “Gotham,” was particularly harsh on the British thespian.

“Cumberbatch is a disgrace and has shot himself in his foot here and I have no sympathy for him. He was doing his “PC actor” thing – speaking up for black people to show he is not racist despite I suspect not actually mixing with any in his private life- but then revealed the hollowness of his words by making a gaffe that any media aware celebrity would not make. In future he should stop patronising black people who do not need Eton educated white people to speak for them because they are intelligent enough to speak for themselves.”

Benedict’s use of “outmoded” racial terminology has also once again stirred up his family’s connection to the slave trade, a connection that in the current race storm, Cumberbatch would perhaps prefer people didn’t know.

The Daily Mail wrote that “the actor’s slip of the tongue is especially troubling considering his family history,” and then the well-loved British tabloid made reference to an article that they wrote a year ago, revealing how Cumberbatch’s ancestors made their fortune more than two centuries ago from the slave trade.

The article states that the Cumberbatch fortune was built on slavery, and in the mid-18th century the exploitation of their fellow man made them one of the wealthiest slave-trading families. They owned at least seven Barbados sugar plantations and a stately home in Taunton, Somerset.

Benedict’s seventh-great-grandfather, Abraham Cumberbatch, purchased the Cleland plantation in Barbados in 1728. The plantation was “home” to 250 slaves, who were subjected to unimaginably brutal treatment by their white masters.

The plantation remained in the Cumberbatch family until slavery was abolished in the 1830s. At the time it was owned by Benedict’s great-great-great-grandfather, Abraham Parry Cumberbatch.

Today there are many Cumberbatches descended from slaves who took their name from the family which once owned them.

Benedict Cumberbatch who once played William Pitt the younger in the film Amazing Grace about the abolitionist William Wilberforce, once remarked that because of his family’s dark past the role was “sort of an apology.”