Almost two decades after Sarah Culberson found out her father was the head of a village in Sierra Leone, the West Virginia native’s life story could finally hit the big screen.
Culberson, who is mixed race, was offered for adoption in 1976 when he was just a few months old and was raised by a white family, the Culbersons, in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Her biological father, Joseph Konia Kposowa, is from Sierra Leone and is the head of the royal family of the Mende tribe in Bumpe, Sierra Leone, making Culberson a princess. His biological mother was Blanche.
The discovery “gave me a deeper sense of who I am as a person who operates and straddles two different worlds and cultures,” Culberson told CNN. “Knowing more about my history in Sierra Leone, my family, my community, my country is a big part of who I am.”
“A Princess Found,” which Culberson co-wrote and published in 2009, caught the attention of Disney executives 10 years later. And an all-black female team is expected to produce the film, which is in the early stages of development, according to film producer Stephanie Allain. A Disney spokesperson also confirmed that it is in the early stages of development.
In 2020, Allain became the first black woman to produce the Oscars. She is also the founder of Homegrown Pictures, “a film, television and digital production company dedicated to creating content by and about women and people of color, with authentic stories, portrayals and portrayals,” according to the company website.
Disney signed a deal with Homegrown Pictures in 2019 to develop the film, a Disney spokesperson told CNN.
April Quioh, a first-generation American Liberian, writes the screenplay for the film. Culberson will serve as executive producer on the checkout film. Allain also said the team are planning to hire a black female director.
Although Disney has said the film has yet to be given the green light, Allain said she hopes production on the film begins next year.
“Disney + is a great partner because they understand the value of portraying an African American black princess. It’s going to have a profound impact on the culture,” Allain said. She added that this film has been “in the works for 10 years. This story should be told and the time is right, ”since the book’s publication in 2009.
The journey to discover his royal lineage
It wasn’t until 2004, when Culberson was 28 and graduated, that she hired a private investigator to search for her biological father.
“I wanted to know what it was like to live in West Virginia as an African man with a white woman in the 1970s,” and have a mixed child, she says.
Through the investigator, Culberson connected with his biological uncle who lived in Maryland. He told her news that would change the course of her life.
“Sarah, we are so happy that you have been found, do you know who you are. You are part of the royal family. You can be a chief one day, you are a princess in this country (Sierra Leone)”, recalls – her uncle’s. telling him.
Culberson, who was working as an actor and dancer at the time, couldn’t believe it. “What? That’s not true,” was his first thought.
In 2004, she traveled to Sierra Leone to visit her biological father.
“It was that beautiful, beautiful coming home,” she recalls.
Chief Kposowa gave her a traditional green dress, which was also worn by the women of Bumpe when they greeted her. Upon her arrival, the women in green dresses were chanting “‘we are getting ready for Sarah’ in Mende,” Culberson recalls.
Hundreds of people surrounded and greeted her, and the celebration included speeches, dances and songs.
Culberson says his discovery gave him a deeper sense of who he is.
West Virginia was not racially diverse growing up.
“Where I lived there weren’t a lot of people of color. I was constantly looking for people who looked like me…. Go into a room and look for other people of color. I was also looking for that on TV. (also). I remember wanting to see more people of color on television …, and wanting to have that representation. ”
His adoptive parents tried to expose him to as much diversity as they could. Her adoptive father, Dr. Jim Culberson, was a professor at the University of West Virginia. The school has always been more diverse than the surrounding city, she says.
Find the courage to keep looking
It took years for Culberson to find the courage to search for her biological father because she was afraid of rejection.
“I had a family member on my birth mother’s side who didn’t want to meet me and she wasn’t warm (to me).”
Culberson was 21 at the time. “It was really heartbreaking for me,” she says.
But there was a happy ending with the acceptance of her biological father years later.
When she met him at 28, he begged her for forgiveness and told her that he was looking for her but didn’t know how to find her after her adoption.
Culberson hopes the film teaches all children, especially black children, to explore their own lineage.
She hopes this film “will give children, especially black children, a deeper understanding of their roots. Your story doesn’t start with slavery, which our history books tell us (in school).” We don’t know much about where we (African Americans and blacks) come from, I have that direct connection, but a lot of people don’t. ”
The “film would be a wonderful way for children to learn about the culture, adoption, power and impact of forgiveness, and to introduce people to different cultures we don’t know like Sierra Leone.” .. history would face your fears, ”Culberson says.
Culberson says being a princess brought her adoptive and biological families together.
Since discovering her royal lineage, she established a nonprofit foundation called Sierra Leone Rising in 2006. The organization advocates for public health, education and women’s empowerment after Sierra Leone faced an 11-year civil war that ended in 2002.
Culberson’s advocacy work as a royal in Sierra Leone not only brought her closer to her biological family, with whom she works at the foundation, but it also brought her adoptive and biological families closer together. “The connection between us has been beautiful,” she explains.
His adoptive parents and siblings also work with the foundation in Sierra Leone, and the Culbersons have also visited the country.
“Finding out my royal line with the relationship with my (adopted) family has been really beautiful and it has a lot to do with who my (adopted) parents are as people … It brought the family together.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Stéphanie Allain’s name. It has been corrected.