A new princess could emerge in Disney’s royal court. Sarah Culberson, a West Virginia native, discovered her father was the chief in a Sierra Leone village nearly two decades ago. Now the story of her life could finally be told on the big screen.
Culberson is biracial and was adopted at just a few weeks old by the Culbersons in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Her biological father Joseph Konia Kposowa is from Sierra Leone. He is the chief of the royal family in Bumpe of the Mende tribe, Sierra Leone. This makes Culberson a princess. Her biological mother was White.
Culberson said that the discovery gave him a deeper understanding of my identity as someone who works and straddles two worlds and cultures. It is a big part of who I am that I learned about my Sierra Leone history, my family, my community, and country.
Culberson’s co-written “A Princess Found” was published in 2009. It caught the eye of Disney executives ten years later. According to Stephanie Allain, the film’s producer and director, an all-Black female production team is expected to produce it. It is currently in the early stages of development, according to a Disney spokesperson.
Allain was the first Black woman to host the Academy Awards ceremony in 2020. According to the company’s website, she is also the founder and CEO of Homegrown Pictures. This company produces film, television and digital content that “focuses on women and people with disabilities, with authentic stories and depictions and representation.”
According to a Disney spokesperson, Disney made the announcement in daily reuters that Disney had signed a deal with Homegrown Pictures for the development of the film in 2019.
April Quioh is a Liberian American first generation writer who will be directing the film’s script. Culberson will be the film’s executive producer and consult. Allain stated that the team will hire a Black female director.
Disney has not yet given green light to the movie, but Allain stated that she was hopeful that production will start next year.
“Disney+ is a great partner because they understand the value of representation, of a Black, African American princess. It’s going to have a profound impact on the culture,” Allain said. She added that this film has been, “10 years in the making. This story should be told and the time is now,” since the book was published in 2009.
It wasn’t until 2004, when Culberson was 28 and in graduate school that she hired a private investigator to look for her biological father.
“I wanted to know what it was like living in West Virginia as an African man with a White woman in the 1970s,” and having a mixed child, she says.
Through the investigator, Culberson connected with her biological uncle who lived in Maryland. He told her news that would change the trajectory of her life.
“Sarah we are so happy you’ve been found, do you know who you are. You are part of the royal family. You can be chief someday, you are a princess in this country (Sierra Leone),” she recalls her uncle telling her.
Culberson, who was working as an actor and dancer at the time, couldn’t believe it. “What? This isn’t true,” was her first thought.
In 2004, she went to Sierra Leone to visit her biological dad.
“It was this beautiful, beautiful homecoming,” she recalls.
She was given a traditional green dress to wear by Chief Kposowa, which was also worn by the women in Bumpe when they welcomed her. Upon her arrival, the women in green dresses were singing “‘we’re preparing for Sarah’ in Mende,” Culberson recalls.
Hundreds of people surrounded and welcomed her, and the celebration included speeches, dancing and singing.
Culberson says her discovery gave her a deeper sense of her identity.