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A Wall Street show with lots of cocaine but none of the dull hyper-masculinity

Black Monday, the dark comedy with Don Cheadle and Regina Hall might be absurd, but its inclusion of black people, a queer storyline and an Arab character is brilliant
Thu, Jan 28, 2021

Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells and Regina Hall. PHOTOS: Showtime

Let us borrow from Rihanna for a bit. From the song, Birthday Cake, specifically. But instead of singing, "cake, cake, cake, cake" we are gonna say, "coke, coke, coke, coke yeah I know you like it, coke, coke, coke, coke”.

That's because cocaine, the cloak that adorns most films fashioned on Wall Street in the '80s, is also at the centre of Black Monday, Don Cheadle's zany dark comedy about the day when international stock markets crashed in 1987.

Martin Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street and Oliver Stone's Wall Street both espouse the values of vice and extreme cocaine use. Black Monday follows on those twisted footsteps replete with cocaine-serving personal robots which seemed to be the chief signifier of wealth back in those heady days.

"What do you give a man with everything?", asks Keith Shankar (Paul Scheer) on the occasion of Maurice 'Mo' Monroe's (Cheadle) birthday. Both reply, "more coke!", as Keith hands Mo a sizeable bag of the white powder. "Coke, coke, coke, coke.”

Perhaps the stimulant is necessary to execute all the chicanery that occurs on Wall Street and feed the egos of those who measure their worth according to their net worth. On Black Monday, egos don't come bigger than Mo's, a short power trippy Type A personality man with expensive but bawdy taste in fashion. It's the late '80s and Mo fancies himself a big schemer on the path to becoming the biggest swinging d*ck on Wall Street.

Seemingly, Cheadle likes playing talented but deviant degenerates. In 1996, he starred in Rebound: The Legend of Earl 'The Goat' Manigault, an HBO film about a gifted street basketball player with a crippling heroin addiction.

Later in his career, Cheadle played Marty Kaan, a deceitful and self-loathing management consultant in House of Lies. Then, in his directorial debut, Miles Ahead, an interpretation of some of Miles Davis' life, Cheadle was once again in fine form portraying an out of sorts coke-sniffing genius.

Black Monday is perhaps one of his finest performances to date, possibly because the whole premise is preposterous. A black man and woman (Regina Hall) run a stockbroking firm that brings international economies to a halt.

In the second season, that firm is run by the black woman who mostly employs black and Latina women and has a gay equity partner.

It is the ultimate "what if?" situation that directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg went to town with. They kept the grey exteriors and dull hyper-masculinity of the genre's preceding productions, but inserted black people, a queer storyline and an Arab character, and came up with a concoction that tables America's contemporary challenges, but set in the '80s.

The writing is strewn with pop culture references from the future that work in this somewhat period comedy. It's not a laugh out loud affair but requires careful listening to comprehend the sleights against racism, capitalism, sexism and greed. While it may be absurd for a black man and woman to run a firm in Wall Street in the late '80s, there is a certain credibility that makes the show work.

Cheadle and Hall hold this dark comedy together while marauding on Wall Street and doing lines at lunch, during meetings and before dinners. A real throwback to when the Notorious B.I.G. rapped, "in '88, sold more powder than Johnson and Johnson".