The title alone, “Black Cake,” caught my attention, floating the question: “Is there such a thing?” And if so, what on Earth could it possibly taste like? But this limited series, now playing on Hulu, isn’t about baking or food at all, despite being set in the Caribbean.
“Black Cake” is actually the adaptation of Charmaine Wilkerson’s best-selling novel of the same title. The story, in this eight-episode series, revolves around Eleanor Bennett (Chipo Chung)—a loving mother who, like so many of the older generation, has kept a boatload full of secrets from her children. We briefly meet her one year before her death, in present-day Southern California, where a surfing accident leads to a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer.
Her son, Byron (Ashley Thomas), a brilliant oceanographer, never leaves her side. But his younger sister Benny (Adrienne Warren), an artist who left the family and hasn’t been seen for eight years, years that included the death of their father, doesn’t show up until it’s time to read the will. E
leanor’s lawyer, Charles Mitch (Glynn Turman), reads her will, which is full of surprises. The most compelling are the hours of recordings that she wants them to listen to together, along with Mr. Mitch. To further add drama to the entire story, she has left them a small black cake that she’s baked, instructing them to eat it together when the time is right. A way, she says, to honor her memory. The key word here is “Together”…
The series takes us back to her 1960s childhood in the West Indies, which blows her kids’ minds since they were told she was an orphan. The truth is that she was raised by a Chinese father and a Black mother who left the island when she was still small.
And she ripped the veil away from her own name, which wasn’t Eleanor Bennett but Covey Lin Cook. This little girl had the spirit of the goddesses. A gifted and strong swimmer, she spent her life in competitions (which she won), training, and planning her life with her best friend, Bunny (Lashay Anderson). Because her gambling and nervous father, Lin (Simon Wan), was strict, she hid her boyfriend, Gibbs (Ahmed Elhaj), from him.
Despite having a full romance, her real love and steadfast dream were competing (in swimming) on an international level.
But because of Lin’s weakness, his growing debts to a local criminal, and his equally ruthless brother, he negotiates her marriage to that very gangster, Little Man (Anthony Mark Barrow). Torn and broken-hearted, young Covey is forced to go through with it. But fate steps in and Little Man is poisoned at the wedding reception. Covey fakes her own death and flees to England, where Gibbs is studying.
Now this story has turned into a proper mystery. Who really killed the hated Little Man, the man with a list of enemies as long as a mile? On the run now, Covey makes it across the Atlantic and back, over the years. A crafty girl with the courage of 100 lions, she knows she’s being hunted, so over the years, she changes her identities to hide.
Now playing on Hulu, “Black Cake” isn’t the most compelling limited series on the streaming platform. The details of the “mystery” are given up so easily, I feel silly even calling it that. It’s really a melodrama and it ticks all of those boxes. There are some solid performances in this uneven series, including Warren, who has risen above the weak script, finding those small places where empathy was hidden.
And in case you were wondering, there is a cake by that very name. It’s usually eaten at Christmastime, and it takes effort to make it. It includes dried fruit soaked in rum and brandy for days, weeks, sometimes more.