Cynthia Erivo to Star in African Princess Film, With Benedict Cumberbatch Producing

Naman Ramachandran
·2 min read

Oscar-nominated actor, singer and songwriter Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”) will star in and produce a film based on the life of 19th century African princess Sarah Forbes Bonetta.

Omoba Aina, an Egbado princess of the Yoruba people, was orphaned and enslaved by a West African king, then was “gifted” to Queen Victoria in 1850, taken to England and renamed Sarah Forbes Bonetta. The Queen’s patronage put the princess at the center of British aristocracy but did not shield her from public scrutiny, personal suffering, or the dangers of a court which was fundamentally suspicious of her as a strong, educated Black woman.

Erivo will produce the film via her production company Edith’s Daughter with Solome Williams, SunnyMarch’s Leah Clarke and Adam Ackland, and Rienkje Attoh from So & So Productions. Benedict Cumberbatch will executive produce.

Development is financed by BBC Film, and Walter Dean Myers’ biography “At Her Majesty’s Request” has been optioned as source material.

“I am excited to embark on this journey,” said Cynthia Erivo. “It has taken a long time to get to a point where we can even begin to realize this dream. As a Nigerian British woman, to get the opportunity to tell the story of another Nigerian British woman who until now has been erased from the history books, is an honor. Ms. Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Omoba Aina, is truly a passion of mine and I’m so pleased to have been able to find partners in the incredible women, Leah Clarke and Rienkje Attoh, to tell the story and finally give her a voice. I cannot wait to dive into her story. She is indeed the forgotten princess, forgotten no more.”

SunnyMarch’s Clarke added, “It is a real privilege to be working on Sarah’s story with this incredible team. Together we hope to bring audiences a bold, modern portrait of an extraordinary woman.”

Erivo has Tony, Emmy and Grammy wins to her credit, as well as Academy Award, Golden Globe, and SAG nominations. She made an impact on West End and Broadway stages in “The Color Purple,” and starred in the HBO series “The Outsider.”

She will play Aretha Franklin on National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha” and will star in Universal’s “Talent Show.”

SunnyMarch was founded by Cumberbatch and Ackland. The film department is headed by Clarke, and has three projects slated for release in 2021 — Kevin Macdonald’s “The Mauritanian,” Dominic Cooke’s “The Courier and a biopic of the artist Louis Wain, directed by Will Sharpe.

Rienkje Attoh recently co-produced the BBC adaptation of “Noughts + Crosses.”

More from Variety

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.