‘Black Cake’ reviews: Mia Isaac is ‘incredible’ in Hulu’s ‘beautiful and gutting’ new mystery drama

On November 1, 2023, Hulu released the first three episodes of “Black Cake,” a new series based on the New York Times bestselling book by Charmaine Wilkerson. The streamer describes it as a murder mystery with a diverse cast and a global setting, taking place in Jamaica, Italy, Scotland, England and Southern California. Early reviews are positive, scoring it at a perfect 100% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes from six critics. 

Eleanor Bennett (Chipo Chung) loses her battle with cancer, leaving her children a flash drive that holds untold stories of her journey from the Caribbean to America; the stories shock her children and challenge everything they know about their family’s origin. The ensemble cast includes Mia Isaac, Adrienne Warren, Faith Alabi, Ashley Thomas and Glynn Turman. Read our full review round-up below.

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April Prince of Black Girl Nerds writes, “Each scene is done so well that at times it feels like we are intruding on a moment we weren’t meant to see.” She adds, “Before watching, it’s important to note that this series does tackle triggering topics such as abuse, assault, violence, racism, and things pertaining to parentage. ‘Black Cake’ doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of humanity and the dangers that are lurking around every corner.”

Angie Han of Hollywood Reporter says, “’Black Cake’… is broadly palatable: Its characters are easy to sympathize with, its ideas unimpeachably well-meaning, its settings and costumes painstakingly curated.” She continues, “Like Wilkerson’s novel, Marissa Jo Cerar’s miniseries is built around two pivotal deaths. In 1960s Jamaica, teen bride Covey (Mia Isaac) flees the wedding reception after the sudden collapse of her unwanted groom, a gangster named Little Man (Anthony Mark Barrow). In present-day California, Covey, now going by Eleanor (Chipo Chung), perishes of cancer. Before she goes, she leaves to her adult children, oceanographer Byron (Ashley Thompson) and artist Benny (Adrienne Warren), a trove of voice recordings promising to reveal the true history of their family. The eight hourlong episodes, seven of which were sent out for review, jump back and forth between past and present as Eleanor’s tender narration excavates the past she’d once planned to bury forever.”

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Aramide Tinubu of Variety praises the series, stating, “A beautiful and gutting mystery drama led by rising star Mia Isaac, ‘Black Cake’ is a thoughtful tapestry of what we conceal so we might remain whole. The show opens in the dark of night in the late 1960s. Covey (Isaac), a distressed 17-year-old girl, runs toward the Caribbean Sea, the train of her white bridal gown dragging in the sand behind her. In the present day, a widow, Eleanor Bennett (Chipo Chung), observes the thunderous waves on a California beach before walking into the Pacific Ocean and letting herself be overcome by the water.” Tinibu continues, “’Black Cake’ is most compelling when looking toward the past. With her Jamaican lilt and captivating expressions, Isaac delivers an incredible performance. Covey’s transformation from a bold teen to an isolated young woman with few options keeps the audience engaged, and eager for the next piece of the puzzle.”

Alex Reif of Laughing Place notes, “The series often shifts focal points, which will be ‘Black Cake’s’ biggest hurdle in keeping a streaming audience engaged. After meeting Eleanor and learning a little bit about Byron and Benny, the focus seems to shift away from them. While the connectivity will reveal itself in time, it stumbles to feel cohesive.” Reif concludes, “I was reminded at times of ‘This Is Us,’ a series that weaved together individual stories from members of the same family in a way that felt balanced. Having not read Charmaine Wilkerson’s novel, I can’t speak to how closely this 8-part series follows the book, but I will say that its narrative is probably best served as a novel. The series doesn’t seem to live up to the hype of its source material.”

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