Self-made (Netflix original series): inspired by Madam C.J. Walker.


This original series is an inspiring story of trailblazing African American entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker who built a haircare empire that made her America’s first female self-made millionaire.

Background on Madam C.J. Walker:

The hair grower.
Self-portrait of Madam C.J. Walker.
Madam C.J. Walker outside one of her salons.

If you’re looking for something new and truly inspirational to watch, I would highly recommend you watch this!

As suggested in the title, the four-part limited series, starring Octavia Spencer,chronicles the real-life pioneering work of Madam C.J. Walker, who is credited as America’s first female self-made millionaire thanks to her haircare business in the early 1900s. Inspired by On Her Own Ground, the book written by her great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, the show highlights the many challenges the entrepreneur had to face including racism, sexism and a lack of opportunities for black women in that period of time.

While watching the new series, you may find yourself asking questions about the real Madam Walker: Starting from the beginning, she was born Sarah Breedlove to Owen and Minerva Breedlove in December 1867 on a cotton plantation in Louisiana.

According to History.com, Owen and Minerva were former slaves who had just been freed before Walker’s birth. Tragically, they died before their daughter turned seven.

Walker, now orphaned, moved into her sister and abusive brother-in-law’s home in Mississippi. To escape her brother-in-law, she married Moses McWilliams and soon after welcomed a baby girl, Lelia (later known as A’Lelia), in 1885. When she was 20, Moses died of unknown causes. And so, on a $1.50 per day salary, Walker did what she could to support herself and her young daughter.

In 1894, Walker married her second husband, John Davis. As she later explained, she was at a crossroads at this point of her life. “I was at my tubs one morning with a heavy wash before me,” she told the New York Times in 1917. “As I bent over the washboard and looked at my arms buried in soapsuds, I said to myself: ‘What are you going to do when you grow old and your back gets stiff? Who is going to take care of your little girl?’”

This is when the story of Madam C.J. Walker begins and you are therefore shown her life from this point on.

I thoroughly enjoyed this series and it opened my eyes to what a woman of her social stature and colour had to endure during that time period and how she overcame it all.

The series chronicles the events in her life from the time she decided to sell products to when she became worth nearly $1 million before being diagnosed with terminal kidney disease.

The more intimate details of her life and emotions are told in a series of flashbacks and brief skits, such as placing her in a boxing ring to combat her business rivals, a dance line of dapperly dressed saleswomen of color prancing around an empty warehouse she wants to turn into a factory or the light-skinned model from her advertisement taunting her- personally I loved these scenes as it gives you a real insight into the characters mindset and these skits illustrate the development of Walker’s personal and professional growth and relationships throughout her life.

I was able to maintain engaged with Walker’s character emotionally through the series due to the modern twist Netflix chose to convey the story.

During scenes of Walker working on her products or celebrating milestones of her success with loved ones, the producers opted for upbeat rock or funk tunes, yet during scenes of conflict, such as fighting with business competitors or encountering physical violence, scenes would fall silent not only of music, but natural sounds, drawing focus to the scene and impact of what happened and to really add an impact to that scene.

The only downfall of this series I can think of is the focus on the other characters especially her daughter which I would have liked to see more of during the series as when I started watching it I wasn’t aware she had a daughter as it was easily overlooked with the focus being on Walker.

I did love how the show show also introduced fictional characters, such as Sweetness, a pimp and hustler who attempts to swindle Walker’s lawyer into letting him invest in her company, and Dora, Walker Hair Company’s top sales agent who also becomes Walker’s husband’s mistress. These fictional characters in the series might represent a distillation of the real adversity Walker faced as she grew her company in some way or another and give you more of an insight as to the difficulties she would have been facing.

The series truly is an inspirational and uplifting series to watch!

Let me know what you thought below.

Until next time.

Faye x

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