Cynthia Erivo, Benedict Cumberbatch Teaming on Biopic of African Princess "Gifted" to Queen Victoria

Cynthia Erivo attends the American Black Film Festival Honors Awards Ceremony - Getty - H 2020
Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Erivo will star in and produce the feature, based on the life of Omoba Aina, with Cumberbatch producing through his SunnyMarch banner.

Cynthia Erivo, a two-time Oscar nominee for Harriet (for best actress and best original song) is set to star in and produce a film based on the life of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a 19th century African princess who, after being orphaned and enslaved by a West African King, was taken in by Queen Victoria’s court.

Erivo will produce with her Edith’s Daughter partner Solome Williams, alongside SunnyMarch’s Leah Clarke and Adam Ackland, and Rienkje Attoh from So & So Productions. SunnyMarch co-founder Benedict Cumberbatch will executive produce.

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

Born Omoba Aina, an Egbado princess of the Yoruba people, Aina was "gifted" to Queen Victoria in 1850, taken to England, and renamed Sarah Forbes Bonetta. The Queen’s patronship was a thorny rose that put Sarah at the center of British aristocracy but did not shield her from public scrutiny, personal suffering or the dangers of a capricious court, which was fundamentally suspicious of her as a strong, educated Black woman.

The film is set to be a celebration of Sarah, a modern, strategic, determined heroine who found a way to embrace her Blackness, her African-ness and to ultimately find love: forging a path for herself that honored both her heritage and her upbringing.

“I am excited to embark on this journey. It has taken a long time to get to a point where we can even begin to realize this dream," said Erivo, also a Tony, Emmy and Grammy winner. "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. Miss 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 Leah Clarke said: “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."