‘Black Cake’ Showrunner and Director Peel Back the First 3 Episodes’ Layers: ‘You Can’t Take Anything at Face Value’

“Black Cake” showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar and director Natalia Leite agree that the launch of the series’ first three episodes at once will enhance the audience’s curiosity and keep them watching the show.

Adapted from the bestselling book by Charmaine Wilkerson and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey, “Black Cake” tells the generational story of Covey (Mia Isaac), who has to abandon all traces of her life in order to escape her Jamaican island home in hopes of a better future. The story begins with Covey’s children, who only know their mother by the name “Eleanor Bennett” (Chipo Chung). She’s a woman who grew up in an orphanage in London before moving to Southern California’s Orange County with her husband Bert. Upon the death of their mother, Covey’s son Byron (Ashley Thomas) and daughter Bennedetta — who goes by “Benny” (Adrienne Warren) — reunite after years apart to listen to a recording their mother left behind telling her complete story.

“The story has so many turns in it,” Leite, who directed the first three episodes, told TheWrap. “I hope [the audience gets to] the end of the pilot and [they] want to keep going right away. What for me was really surprising in reading the scripts for the first time is that there were characters that I really disliked in one script, and then come Episode 2, I really start to feel for them, and that’s what I hope people get, is that you can’t take anything at face value.”

“I think it says something about a larger conversation of not taking people at face value,” Leite added. “For this show specifically, it was really like a turn of heart from episode to episode, so I’m excited to see how people respond to that.”

Charles “Lin” Lyncook (Simon Wan), Covey’s father, was the character Leite had to warm up to, because of how he was first presented before the his full background and story gets revealed. Lin’s decisions greatly impact the trajectory of his daughter’s life, because Covey’s mother Mathilda left them when Covey was young.

“I read the pilot, and I was like, ‘this guy is terrible. He’s gambling, selling off his daughter to marry this gangster.’ I hated him, but I think Simon on set does such a great job at being grounded — like he is not a villain straight up,” Leite said. “So does Little Man, by the way — the person that Covey has to marry — but I read the script and I really didn’t like him. And then when I started learning about his backstory, seeing where he came from, the struggles that he endured, I started to really feel for him.”

A fire set to Lin’s shop plunged him into deep debt. His habit of gambling on cock fights had already put him in a position to owe money to “Little Man” Henry (Anthony Mark Barrow), a man who called in favors when he loaned people money. Little Man demanded a marriage to Covey as the price for Lin’s expansive debt, and while Lin objected verbally, he ultimately agreed.

Little Man went through with the ceremony. Someone poisoned him at the reception, though, causing him to die in front of his new young wife, who took the opportunity to dive into the sea and swim into hiding. She eventually found a way to England with the help of her best friend Bunny (Lashay Anderson) and her father’s maid, Pearl (Faith Alabi).

Benny (Adrienne Warren) and Byron (Ashley Thomas) in “Black Cake” (Photo by: James Van Evers/Hulu)
Benny (Adrienne Warren) and Byron (Ashley Thomas) in “Black Cake” (Photo by: James Van Evers/Hulu)

“I think when people say ‘ancestral trauma,’ it’s more nuanced than that,” showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar said. “If we actually, instead of keeping so much inside, we talked about our past, we talked about where people came from, the origins of our country, our community, then maybe we can understand why we do some of the things that we do, good and bad.”

“Specifically with this family, Benny learns so much about herself by learning about what her mother went through,” Cerar continued. “There’s so many parallels with things Byron’s going through at work that his mother went through decades before in another country, as we see in Episode 3. There was so much more to her, and I think only by really facing our past can we be our truest selves, and we can we heal things in the present and hopefully be better parents, better brothers, better sisters, better partners.”

Cerar compared the first three episodes to a three-hour movie split into three acts. She also emphasized the many settings — four different countries — that the show will take viewers through.

She also noted that she related personally to the story as someone who was adopted.

“Wanting to understand where I came from genetically, learning a lot about it while working on this show, it made me realize, absolutely, you talk about it. I need to know,” Cerar said. “I’m better for knowing my child has the right to know. The line at the very end of the first trailer — when [Chipo] says, ‘This is your story, too,’ — that weighs so heavily on me. And I hope that’s what viewers take away from the show, is that your story isn’t just your story. It’s your family’s story. It’s your daughter’s story. Your mom’s story is your story too, and you can learn a lot about yourself by learning about what your parents went through before you were on this planet.”

“I think we are better knowing, just like I think we’re better knowing the history of our country rather than pretending we just all  ended up here,” Cerar elaborated. “We’re better knowing the truth. even though it’s hard. Sometimes it’s easier to just live in the lie, but I think Eleanor is proof on the show that it wasn’t easy. She made it look easy, but she was suffering because she was lying and she couldn’t be her true self. Hopefully she frees her children as a result, but we’ll see.”

The first three episodes of “Black Cake” are now available to stream on Hulu. Watch the trailer here:

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