At the January premiere of Black Monday, Showtime’s comedy about misfit Wall Street traders in the 1980s, producers David Caspe and Jordan Cahan told a heartfelt story about the show’s long, winding (11 year!) journey from concept to screen. The audience, which included A-listers like Jon Hamm and Black Monday producer Seth Rogen, heard how the show evolved into what it is now; one of the more surprising tidbits was that Black Monday wasn’t even the title at first, it was named Ball Street. But Caspe and Cahan left out another, more surprising revelation about the show’s route from inception to completion: Black Monday, which stars Don Cheadle and Regina Hall didn’t always have black actors as leads.
Granted, acknowledging this to an audience might’ve seemed awkward and self congratulatory, but its eventual choice of leads is, in a way, a big deal. Given the show’s title, and the way the series deftly turns moments of prejudice and bigotry experienced by Mo (Cheadle) and Dawn (Hall) into opportunities for laugh-out-loud moments or emotion, it’s reasonable to assume Black Monday had been crafted with black stars from the very beginning. Nope. Black Monday –– or rather, Ball Street — was created as a story about outsiders making it in the big leagues of finance, but ended up becoming an example of how a story can be enriched and multidimensional by adding people of varying ethnicities to the overall mix and putting people of color at the center.
“We don’t usually write with particular actors in mind,” Cahan told TV Guide earlier this year, “but as we developed the show, more and more we knew there had to be not just a person of color as the lead but the office had to have people of color, and not everyone straight. We wanted to see a show with all the people we have not seen.”
In the vein of Bad News Bears — if it had grown up to work in finance — Black Monday also functions as a parody of ’80s tropes like rampant misogyny in the workplace, casual homophobia and giddy references to all things (then) new and cool, like DeBarge and gigantic cell phones. As survivors of the decade know, brilliantly dumb comedy classics of the 80s frequently cast ensembles with sprinklings of color, but often as tokens, like the flamboyantly gay Lamar and or overly Japanese Takashi from Revenge of the Nerds. Black Monday lampoons that conceit with an office that has a Jewish guy, a (closeted) gay guy, a Muslim guy, a Latino guy and two black bosses. It’s absurd, but that’s the point. “It felt like an opportunity to satirize the current world in a way,” Caspe said.
The ridiculousness of the office environment, as well as the placement of black Americans in charge, spoofs the genre as much as it illuminates how finance has almost always been portrayed as a realm exclusively for straight white males. “I didn’t want to see another white guy in a financial world,” Cahan said. “Not that I don’t enjoy those shows or movies but it felt to us like…with what’s happening now [in the world] these are the same people who have this administration’s boot on their neck. It felt like we had this opportunity to create this world where they can exist.”
Black Monday’s characters not only exist but thrive — or at least, try to, in spite of their own poor decision making. But Mo and Dawn are not crafted as respectable, admirable people — they’re traders after all — but individuals scratching for their piece of the pie any way they can get it. “I love that they are unapologetically black,” Regina Hall said. “Mo is not trying to fit in — he’s kicking doors in. I love seeing how a woman, and in particular a black woman, would navigate this environment.”
Still, Black Monday is not about black financiers, but rather, traders whose unique position in that world adds another layer to story: influencing Mo’s scrappy doggedness and Dawn’s careful navigation of a space where she has to challenge men and acquiesce to them just to get through the day. Said Don Cheadle, “This grouping did not exist. But it’s great because it allows us to talk about a whole bunch of other things that if it were cast differently we wouldn’t be able to talk about.” Producers Caspe and Cahan noted how, when the series first premiered earlier this year, people didn’t know what to make of it; it’s sloppy in a way that’s both hard to pin down as it is deliberate. And though it didn’t start out with black leads and a double entendre title, its happy accidents have resulted in one of the year’s best comedies also being a win for inclusion.
“The name of the show came around Day 4 or 5 of the pilot,” Cheadle said. “Evan [Goldberg, producer] came up with the name of the show and he kind of asked it in a way. We were all sitting behind the camera trying to think up names and he goes, ‘I have one! I don’t know if this is right.’ He said Black Monday and I said, ‘That’s perfect.’ He said, ‘I can say that?’ I said, ‘We have to say that.'”
Black Monday airs Sundays at 10/9c on Showtime.