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Review of Black Cake - a visually stunning production that will remain in your memory for a long time.
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Review of Black Cake – a visually stunning production that will remain in your memory for a long time.

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Losing a loved one is already difficult, but it becomes even harder when we wake up each morning and realize we will never see or hear from them again. This is especially true for mothers and children, as their relationship is often complex. However, in Disney+’s new miniseries, Byron (Ashley Thomas) and Benny Bennett (Adrienne Warren) face an even more emotionally challenging period of mourning when they learn that their mother Eleanor (Chipo Chung) was not who she claimed to be.

In the screen adaptation of Charmaine Wilkerson’s novel produced by Oprah Winfrey, the siblings discover that their biological mother is not Eleanor, who grew up in an orphanage, but Covey. Covey, who had a Chinese father and a Black mother, was raised in the idyllic Caribbean coast but was forced to flee due to unfortunate events and faced further tragic experiences away from Jamaica. In the present day, her successful children are grieving her death, but through posthumous recordings, they uncover their heritage (in a rare moment of humor, Benny excitedly exclaims: “We’re Chinese!”). They also learn about Eleanor’s hidden secrets. Through her recordings, the siblings hear about their mother’s childhood as a talented swimmer and surfer, as well as her love for the ocean which she passed down to them. In contrast, Covey’s parents only brought her pain – her mother left her at the age of eleven and she was raised by her father who had a gambling addiction that led the family to financial ruin.

Benny and Byron may not have had a close relationship with their mother, but they can find solace in the fact that she was able to break the cycle and care for them as much as she loved the ocean. However, as we begin to understand, she was unable to share her story. Her transformation into Eleanor takes place across three continents and is filled with unexpected turns and difficult choices. The performance by Mia Isaac as Eleanor is mesmerizing, as she subtly evolves and matures while Covey loses their innocence. Chung’s portrayal in the present perfectly complements this, creating an enigmatic yet soulful character in Eleanor.

Byron’s son, who is now an expert in ocean studies, has always been aware that his race (Black, and now Black and Chinese) would make him stand out during his PhD studies and while surfing. In addition to dealing with his complicated grief, we witness him struggling to connect with his sister and feeling undervalued by his white coworkers. The family has experienced discrimination in various ways throughout the generations – their Chinese grandfather was never fully accepted by the Caribbean community, Byron’s sister Covey was looked down upon as a recent immigrant upon arriving in the UK, and even Byron’s surfboard raised eyebrows in the present.

Many skilled African American swimmers can relate to this experience (I was once informed by a lifeguarding trainer that my “Black physique” might make me more prone to needing a lifeguard rather than being one). However, swimming serves as a source of solace for all of them, and Covey/Eleanor attributes it to aiding in her journey towards self-discovery. As Byron expresses in the beginning of the film, his mother taught him that: “Some believe that surfing is a connection with the ocean, but it’s truly a connection with oneself. The ocean will always act on its own accord.”

This is an accurate statement and a symbolic representation of the main idea of the show – that Byron and Benny’s relationship with their mother is a reflection of themselves. She is a mysterious figure and uncovering her story is a way for them to better understand their own identities after her passing. The series is divided into two parts: the siblings mourning in the present and delving into Eleanor/Covey’s true origins, which are intertwined in a coming-of-age narrative. It delves into difficult emotional truths, paying tribute to the complex themes of Wilkerson’s source material, but this can sometimes result in disjointed storytelling; at times, the two storylines feel unrelated.

The miniseries boldly displays its goals and ultimately accomplishes them with flair. Despite grappling with weighty topics such as race, loss, and gender, Black Cake remains one of the most visually captivating shows in recent history. Even outside of the vibrant blue waters of 1960s Jamaica, where each character is adorned in exquisite period attire, the show maintains a dedication to sophistication. The production design of London mansions and Pacific coast townhouses is equally impressive, and even during challenging moments in Covey’s life, the beauty of the show persists.

The plot progresses slowly and the eight episodes, each lasting an hour, demand patience and concentration. However, the end result is rewarding. Black Cake is a cleverly written and expertly crafted work that should be enjoyed slowly and with careful consideration.

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Source: theguardian.com