Two-time Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) is to star in and produce a film based on the remarkable life of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, A 19th century African princess “gifted” to Queen Victoria after she was orphaned and enslaved by a West African king.
Erivo produces with her Edith’s Daughter partner Solome Williams, alongside Sunny March’s Leah Clarke and Adam Ackland, and Rienkje Attoh from So & So Productions. Benedict Cumberbatch will executive produce.
Development is financed by BBC Film (which underwent a rebrand this year and now is singular rather than Films). 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, she 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 centre of British aristocracy but did not shield her from public scrutiny, personal suffering or the dangers of a capricious court that was fundamentally suspicious of her as a strong, educated Black woman.
The filmmakers are planning for the biopic to be a celebration of Bonetta as a strategic, determined heroine who found a way to embrace her Black-ness, her African-ness and to ultimately find love, forging a path for herself that honoured both her heritage and her upbringing.
Erivo said: “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. 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.”
Sunny March’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.”
Tony, Emmy and Grammy winner Erivo burst onto West End and Broadway stages in The Color Purple, and garnered acclaim last year for slavery drama Harriet. She currently stars in HBO series The Outsider and upcoming she will play Aretha Franklin on National Geographic’s Genius: Aretha and will star in Universal’s Talent Show.