Hulu’s Black Cake explores how marriage, migration, and motherhood can shift one’s sense of self.
Some of the vital elements of any household recipe is its provenance—not solely what the dish is, however the place it got here from. So what occurs when the story of a beloved dish conceals profound ache?
In Black Cake, a brand new Hulu present based mostly on Charmaine Wilkerson’s 2022 novel, the titular dessert (certainly one of many culinary emblems of the Caribbean’s colonial histories) connects a lady named Eleanor Bennett (performed by Chipo Chung) to the island the place she was born. Many years after she flees her homeland, Eleanor dies quietly in California and leaves behind one remaining cake for her youngsters. The present comes with a sequence of voice recordings that problem every little thing her daughter, Benny (Adrienne Warren), and her son, Byron (Ashley Thomas), knew about their mom. By means of these posthumous messages, which additionally relay Eleanor’s coming-of-age story, Black Cake considers how marriage, migration, and motherhood can shift one’s sense of self—and the way documenting these journeys may help recuperate a few of what was misplaced.
In flashback, we meet a precocious woman named Coventina “Covey” Lyncook (Mia Isaac), the daughter of a Black Jamaican mom and a Chinese language Jamaican father, who sooner or later will change her identify to Eleanor. (Within the e-book, Eleanor was born in a fictional nation largely modeled on Jamaica, however the sequence makes the connection specific.) After her mom leaves the household and the island, the teenage Covey finds solace in friendship, budding romance, and the ocean. These scenes are fantastically shot, a montage of gorgeous ocean panoramas, bustling metropolis streets, and immersive underwater footage. In addition they mirror the Southern California seaside cities the place Eleanor raised her youngsters, a visible parallel that rapidly establishes for Benny and Byron how these locales might need eased their Caribbean mom’s homesickness regardless of the demographic variations. These small connections between Eleanor’s childhood and her parenting—sharing her love of browsing with Byron, her black-cake recipe with Benny—amplify simply how a lot of Covey she saved hidden as an older girl.
Like many moms, Eleanor tells herself that she papered over the painful chapters of her life to guard her youngsters from the reality. And the small print of her departure from Jamaica are certainly harrowing: When Covey’s playing father racks up large losses, he forces her to marry an area mortgage shark with a view to settle the debt; the association units off the chain of occasions that propel Covey’s escape from dwelling. The sequence makes the horror of her marriage clear by portray a vivid portrait of her adolescent ebullience and what she’s compelled to place behind her. Leaving the island means giving up swim practices along with her greatest pal, Bunny (Lashay Anderson); baking with the household prepare dinner; and tender dates along with her old flame—all with no warning. In these early episodes, Black Cake underscores the ache this rupture causes Eleanor and traces the way it reverberates in her youngsters’s lives many years later. After the heat of Jamaica’s wooden and water provides method to the gloomy concrete of the UK, the place she initially strikes, Covey’s world dims; these are lonely years she spends receding into anonymity to maintain herself alive. The saturation dips, the brass soundtracking fades, and the rooms appear to shrink.
Even in these duller settings, Covey herself lights up the display, her dedication to her personal survival as tenacious because the agony that follows her from Jamaica to Europe, after which on to america. As Eleanor leaves messages for her youngsters that recount these experiences, she begins to drop the propriety that constrained her grownup life and reconnects with the teenage woman she as soon as was. Although the recordings are meant as letters to Byron and Benny, they find yourself serving to Eleanor recapture the levity of her childhood—and, in a way, re-parent her youthful self, a strikingly expansive depiction of motherhood.
When the present turns its consideration to Byron and Benny within the current day, it loses its momentum because it makes an attempt to wring extra drama from their storylines than the novel does. As a result of Black Cake is streaming on a platform geared towards U.S. viewers, emphasizing hardships similar to racism within the office and harmful police encounters would possibly make the sequence really feel extra related to its viewers. However juxtaposed with Eleanor’s story, Byron and Benny’s paint-by-numbers conflicts simply aren’t as fascinating, and the dissonance is deflating in a sequence that spends a great portion of its prolonged runtime with these characters.
The give attention to the kids’s up to date woes additionally distracts from the present’s extra pressing questions on the way in which that radically totally different environments form the interconnected individuals who develop up in them. American microaggressions are well-trodden territory, however Black Cake actually shines when it explores the difficult relationships that its Caribbean characters must the island and the way they cross these right down to future generations. Whether or not in scenes of Benny baking her mom’s cake or flashbacks to Covey’s swim meets, the tastes and smells of Eleanor’s properties, actual and imagined, come to mind with nostalgia-inspiring depth. Even permitting for a number of questionable accents, it nonetheless feels outstanding to look at a thoughtfully constructed drama that contemplates maternal identification by the life story of a Caribbean girl of Asian and African descent. Black Cake isn’t excellent, but it surely comes collectively fantastically.