Cynthia Erivo to star and produce film about enslaved Yoruba girl who became a gift for the Queen of England

Cynthia Erivo is expected to star and produce a film about Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the daughter of an African leader who was captured and gifted to the Queen of England in 1850. Developed by BBC Film, the next film will be “A Celebration of Sarah, a modern, strategic and determined heroine who has found a way to embrace her blackness, her Africanness and ultimately to find love: forging a path that honors both her heritage and her education.

Benedict Cumberbatch will be the executive producer, with double Oscar nominee Erivo and Solome Williams co-producing. Erivo, 33, said she was excited about the upcoming project.

“As a British Nigerian woman it is an honor to have the opportunity to tell the story of another Nigerian British woman who has so far been erased from the history books.

“Miss Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Omoba Aina, is truly a passion of mine and I’m so happy that I was able to find partners among amazing women, Leah Clarke and Rienkje Attoh, to tell the story and finally give it a voice. I can’t wait to dive into its history. It is indeed the forgotten princess, more forgotten.

Born in a West African royal dynasty, Bonetta, originally named Aina, was captured by King Gezo of Dahomey during a slave hunting war in 1848. Her parents were killed during the war and, as a daughter of an African leader, Bonetta was held captive as a state prisoner. Being the princess of the Egbado clan of the Yoruba people, she was to be introduced to an important visitor or sacrificed after the death of a minister or official to become their assistant in the outside world.

In June 1850, when she was about eight years old, Bonetta was rescued by Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy while he was visiting Dahomey as an emissary for the British government. Forbes asked the king to give the baby girl to Queen Victoria as a gift. Bonetta initially stayed with the Forbes family, before being taken to Windsor Castle on November 9, 1850. She was received by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen turned Bonetta over to the Church Missionary Society and paid for her education.

Bonetta, a year later, developed a cough believed to be caused by the British climate. The Queen arranged for her to be sent to Sierra Leone for a better climate. There, Bonetta attended the Freetown Women’s Institution. But at the age of 12, the Queen ordered Sarah to return to England, where she was placed in the care of the Scheon family in Chatham.

Bonetta became very intelligent and developed a special talent for music. His academic prowess won the admiration of the Queen as she granted him a social allowance and allowed him to visit Windsor Castle on a regular basis.

In 1862 Bonetta married James Pinson Labulo Davies, a 31-year-old Yoruba businessman who lived in Britain. The two returned to West Africa and settled in Lagos, where her husband served as a member of the Legislative Council from 1872 to 1874. Sarah also began teaching at a school in Freetown. She gave birth to a daughter and got permission from the Queen to name her Victoria. The queen also became his godmother.

In 1867 Sarah visited the Queen with her daughter and returned to Lagos, where she had two more children. Following climate change between Africa and Britain, Sarah’s cough returned. She died in her forties in 1880 after suffering from tuberculosis and was buried in Funchal, Madiera.
Her equally brilliant daughter was taken in by the Queen and was always allowed to visit the royal household throughout her life.

During her lifetime, Bonetta was described by Captain Forbes as “well ahead of any white child her age in terms of learning ability, strength of mind and affection”.

English Heritage, as part of its new project to shed light on forgotten black stories and figures in British history, unveiled a portrait of Bonetta in October. He said the painting would be hung throughout this month at Osborne House – the home of Queen Victoria – where Bonetta spent time with the monarch before her death.

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