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Black Cake creators reveal details of working with 'thoughtful' Oprah Winfrey on new drama - exclusive

The upcoming adaptation is set to premiere on Disney+

Mia Isaac as Covey in Black Cake
Megan Bull
TV Writer
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When Charmaine Wilkerson penned Black Cake, she had no idea that it would become an instant bestseller. No idea that it would feature on Barack Obama's Summer Reading List for 2022, and no idea that Marissa Jo Cerar and Oprah Winfrey would adapt it for the screen. 

WATCH: Black Cake - trailer

Following the novel's publication in 2022, Black Cake has continued to garner critical acclaim with its compelling portrayal of Covey – a tenacious and resilient young woman who, after the murder of her husband, disappears off the coast in Jamaica in the 1960s. 

Meanwhile, in the present, a widow named Eleanor Bennett passes away, leaving her children – Byron and Benny – a flash drive filled with shocking and untold stories of her journey from the Caribbean to America. 

Mia Isaac as Covey in Black Cake© Hulu
Mia Isaac delivers a stellar performance as Covey

Now a hit mini-series, Black Cake has made its debut on Hulu, but as of January 31, audiences can also tune in on Disney+. Ahead of its premiere, HELLO! caught up with author, Charmaine Wilkerson, and showrunner, Marissa Joe Cerar, to talk about the eight-part drama, plus what it was really like working with Oprah Winfrey. 

"We came together – Kapital Entertainment, the studio where I have my development deal, and Harpo Films, Oprah's company," explained Marissa. 

Charmaine Wilkerson and Marissa Joe Cerar on the set of Black Cake© Hulu
Author Charmaine Wilkerson and Showrunner Marissa Joe Cerar on the set of Black Cake

"We were all trying to get the book at the same time and I have relationships with some executives at Harpo and we were talking about something completely unrelated when the book came up and they were like, 'Oh, we're doing this' and I said 'No, we're doing it.'"

After deciding to collaborate on Black Cake, Marissa worked alongside Oprah, with the pair determined to honor Charmaine's novel. "For me, you know, the greatest thing about Oprah's input is that it's so thoughtful and all of the notes, comments, questions and suggestions are rooted in truth; making sure we're telling the truth and being authentic," she raved to HELLO!.

oprah winfrey red carpet brown sequin suit© Getty
Oprah Winfrey served as an Executive Producer on the series

"As a writer who's used to getting notes all the time from so many different people, whether it's on a costume or my screenplays, that's so welcome. I beg for those kinds of notes because that's what we're trying to do. She's very thoughtful and just interested. Again, she's a lover of books and protects the novel source material."

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Charmaine – who aided with research on the adaptation – is still shocked by the impact of her debut novel, not to mention Oprah's role as an executive producer. "When I was writing this story, I was just writing scenes, things that interest me, things that worry me, things that inspire me," she said. 

"I love that talented creative powerful women like Oprah Winfrey and Marissa Jo Cerar have put their heart into reading a book, thinking about it and saying, 'Let's see how we can share this with other people using our own art form.'"

Marissa Jo Cerar and Charamaine Wilkerson behind the scenes© Hulu
Marissa and Oprah were dedicated to protecting and honoring Charmaine's novel

As for the origins of Black Cake, Charmaine clarifies that it's not autobiographical. "Without a doubt, there are details that I steal from my life. Details I take from stories told to me by my elders, a number of whom lived in the Caribbean. There's no doubt, but this story really was about feelings," she explained. 

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"I began with this feeling of what would it be like to be a girl who felt so confident in herself and so strong that there was no doubt. And I think that's something most people don't experience when they're teenagers and into my head popped this image of two girls swimming out in the sea. It's the power of the sea, the beauty, the idea of physical strength, married to mental and emotional courage…and I just kept writing."

Mia Isaac as a bride in Black Cake© Hulu
While Black Cake is not autobiographical, Charmaine states that it's based on feelings

After wrapping the series and sending it out into the world, both Marissa and Charmaine have been left with cherished memories, especially of their time with Oprah. 

"We were doing a Zoom or something [...]  and she just said 'Are you happy? I hope you're happy, you should be,'" recalled Marissa. "It was a very simple, stamp of approval and encouragement for me after growing up watching her. It was such a big moment for me because I just idolized her growing up. So that little moment is what I've held on to." 

Marissa Jo Cerar and Charmaine Wilkerson on set © Hulu
Marissa and Charmaine cherished their time on set

As for Charmaine, just seeing Oprah with her novel has been a dream come true. "When the series was about to debut in the United States, she [Oprah] just popped up holding my book, and it was the first time I'd seen that. That means a great deal to me," she explained.  

"It was a very simple thing," Charmaine continued. "It was, 'Wow, this really is happening'. It's almost as though throughout the whole process, even though I'd done the Zooms with Carla Gardini from her [Oprah's] group and with Marissa and other people, somehow it didn't seem real." 

All 8 episodes of Black Cake will premiere on Disney+ in the UK and Ireland from Wednesday 31st January