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'Self Made' Tells the Tale of How Black Pioneer Madam C.J. Walker Came to Be – Review

Did you know that the first self-made female millionaire was a Black woman? Madam C.J. Walker paved the way for the entrepreneurship of women of color while collaborating with and representing the African American community. The Netflix original miniseries Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker tells the remarkable story of how she earned her title.

I can personally attest to how hard it is to maintain a Black woman’s hair, but I can only imagine how indescribably harder it was in the 1910s. Walker knew those hardships firsthand and also knew that her people already had enough to stress about. So, aided by her small team and large ambitions, she founded her own business of hair products.

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Octavia Spencer as Madam C.J. Walker (Courtesy of Amanda Matlovich/Netflix)

It wasn’t that easy though. Holding nothing back, the series highlights the good just as much as the bad. Beyond showing the racism and sexism she had to endure, Self Made also shows the doubt and personal conflicts. This is probably because it’s based on the On Her Own Ground biography written by her daughter herself, A’Lelia Bundles; but the honesty of these stories and secrets is refreshing, nonetheless. The show celebrates Walker’s greatest characteristics without hesitating to expose her shortcomings.

There are a lot of things to love about this show from the dramatized cut scenes to the situational humor, but I love how historical it is. The story takes place during the Reconstruction era, so for many of the characters, slavery is still relatively fresh in their minds. They’re the older characters, of course, but their memories of that horrid experience influence the younger characters. On top of that, the show really emphasizes how Walker was historically significant. We see titans of African American history like W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington portrayed alongside a very young NAACP. They’re not characters just for the sake of name-dropping though. Their presence shows Walker’s status and how they were influenced by her like she was influenced by them. Heck, even John D. Rockefeller is a character; he doesn’t have as many scenes as DuBois and Washington, but he’s still a very noteworthy character.

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Blair Underwood as C.J. Walker and Octavia Spencer as Madam C.J. Walker (Courtesy of Amanda Matlovich/Netflix)

While the series is limited, the talent behind the cast and crew is anything but. Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer plays Walker with great focus and grace, as expected, alongside Tiffany Haddish as her daughter and Blair Underwood as her husband. As for the crew, the multitalented Kasi Lemmons, director of films like Harriet and costar of films like Silence of the Lambs, puts on both the director’s and producer’s hat. Co-producing with her are Maverick Carter, Janine Sherman Barrois, and NBA star LeBron James.

I wish I learned about Madam C.J. Walker in school, because her story is truly inspiring. She gave a voice to the women being shunned from entrepreneurship and the Black women being shunned from beauty standards. She held fast to her dreams in spite of every hardship that came her way to fight for the acceptance of her people, and make a name for herself. She was undoubtedly a hero and a pioneer of African American history.

If you would like to learn more about her and see her story, be sure to watch it and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Nothing but love.

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