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As an adoptee whose biological mother hid my existence for three decades, and whose biological father has yet to tell his family about her, I know all too well the ripple effect that secrets can have, especially in a family. Black Cake, an eight-episode series based on the New York Times bestseller by Charmaine Wilkerson (read my review here), explores the profound effects of one mother’s secrets on the next generation.

I adored the book, which made many Top 10 lists for 2022, including mine. As in the book, the Caribbean setting is glorious, with wild, tropical rainforests and aquamarine coves saturating the screen. It’s here, on the island of Jamaica, that we meet Covey (Mia Isaac), a teenager whose Jamaican mother has abandoned her and whose Chinese father (Simon Wan) is spiraling out of control with gambling debts and a violent streak. Still, Covey’s life is filled with good things, such as competitive swimming in the sea, a loyal friendship with her best friend, and a budding romantic relationship with the kind Gibbs (Ahmed Elhaj).

All of this is ripped from under her when her father basically offers her up as a bride to the leering local loan shark to pay off his debts. At their wedding, a murder takes place, setting into motion what will become for Covey a lifelong rupture from her beloved island home. Her story is by far the most compelling here, but the show flashes back and forth from Covey’s life in Jamaica and then England to the current day in California, where Covey, who long ago adopted the name Eleanor Bennett, has died and left behind tape recordings of her life for her bickering children, Byron (Ashley Thomas) and Benny (Adrienne Warren). As they slowly lay aside their differences, the siblings inch closer to each other and to the mother they only knew as a curated simile of her true self.

Mia Isaac is stunning as Covey, whose innocence is shattered and who retains a deep vulnerability and fearfulness throughout her life. She is well cast, as is Chipo Chung as the aged and sickly Covey/Eleanor. The two look so much alike I thought at first they were the same person, just with makeup on to make her look older.

Another character of note is Mathilda (Jade Eshete), who arrives on the scene more than halfway through the series (plot twist!) and whose existence has vast ramifications for the siblings. Eshete is effective and moving as a woman who is thrown into turmoil by long-ago secrets.

I highly recommend reading the book before watching. With the multiple storylines being braided together here, it can get a little confusing, especially if you have no background to orient yourself to what is happening.

Unlike the book, which is free of offensive language and sex scenes—although there is a rape, and domestic violence is portrayed in a non-graphic way—the series adds needless profanity and some sexual content as well, although no nudity. The rape scene and the domestic violence scene in the series are disturbing and could be triggering for some viewers.

The way Covey survives her father’s weak and selfish choices is inspiring, even if one doesn’t agree with all her decisions, including the biggest choice to keep her past a secret from those who love her most. Others betray and damage her along the way, and you wish for someone, anyone, to show her God’s grace and love. Instead, she guts it out almost alone, isolating herself further in the process of trying to misguidedly protect her children. How can someone with so much courage be so afraid to show themselves as they truly are? That’s a question to ponder about Covey—and oneself.

Like the colonial/Caribbean black cake in the title, Covey’s story is a fusion of the harmful and the good. It represents the primal human desire to pass something on to the next generation, whether it be a cherished family recipe or a bold truth to set people free. (TV-MA, Hulu)

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