Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker is a four part limited series on Netflix. It displays the life of Madam C.J. Walker, who was the first African American self-made millionaire. The series aired March 20th 2020 starring Octavia Spencer – who has played many gender defying roles like Hidden Figures and The Shape of Water. I first saw it when it premiered on my “Suggested for You”. The series takes place in 1910 America, a little bit over 40 years after the American civil war. Sarah Breedlove is an African American woman, born and raised in St. Louis, Louisiana, who was orphaned at the age of 7, married at the age of 14 pregnant at the age of 15 and to top it off widowed at the age of 20. She did remarry twice afterwards and gave herself the title Madam C. J. Walker after her last husband, Charles Joseph Walker. She had a dream to create a hair product for African American women as well as being suitable for their hair type. She suffered from hair loss due to stress while being a washerwoman for many years and could not take care of her hair due to the lack of hair grower on the market. As a result, she chose to fabricate and sell her own hair grower after another women had introduced it to her.
Sarah Breedlove was approached by a light skinned women who introduced her to the powers of hair growth. The light skinned woman, Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone, met Breedlove at a very dark time in her life. When African American women were using goose fat, heavy oils, soap, or bacon grease to grow and strengthen their hair, Annie had created a sulfur based hair-grower. History and movie tell it different, Breedlove and Malone had a disagreement over how the hair grower should be sold. This pushed Breedlove to make her own formula of hair grower and sell it as her as her own product and brand. To avoid living in Malone’s shadow, she moved to Indianapolis – with her husband C. J. Walker – to start her business there. At the time, many African American citizens moved to Indianapolis because the real estate was cheap and they had a lot of people from the same community as them settled in the city and its outskirts. At first, not many people believed in Breedlove because of her race and gender. However, she defied odds, by herself, by successfully selling her product and opening a hair salon. Contrary to what you would assume, she did have the full support of her husband. In the series, he is portrayed as a caring and loving husband. His father, on the other hand, did not appreciate the fact that it was his wife coming up with the bright ideas and acting upon her dreams. He says to his son, “What kind of self-respecting negro works for his wife?” then follows with “Never get your money where you get your honey”.
There are many obstacles that Madam C.J.Walker had to face in order to reach her goal. Nevertheless, she was determined. She lived in a society where African American people were still referred to as “colored” and “negro“. She was not respected and, you can even say, highly underestimated. What Madam C. J. Walker did was use all of these labels that society had placed on her and made herself a millionaire out of it. To be specific, she targeted what was missing in the market and sold the dream. She used herself as marketing by telling her story to the women who were willing to listen to her. If you think about it logically, a African American woman made a product for the millions of African American women and flourished from there. In the series, she’s seen telling her story to a crown of dark skinned women in order to sell her product. However, what could be seen is that she is reaching out to the women; by targeting their struggles and their insecurities and linking them to her own, she was able to make them believe her and in her.
Furthermore, the main antagonist, Addie Malone, claims that dark skinned women want to look like her and that is the idea she wants to sell with her product. Which can suggest that white is the beauty standard in early 1900 America. Frankly, it is still the case in multiple environments in 2020. When Sarah Breedlove offers to sell her product for her, Malone declines her request by saying “you don’t have the right look”, referring to her darker skin tone. This is a representation of how racial discrimination still plagued the United States of America and, in a way, shackled every dark skinned American with a dream. In fact, even in the famous movie Hidden Figures, which is based a lot later in time, 1961, there is still discrimination against dark skinned women. Not only is it hard for a women, even in this day and age, to make a name for herself without the help of a man; it’s even harder for a dark skinned woman. The same situation can be seen in the movies The Help and Daughters of the Dust.
To sum up, I really enjoyed watching the series. It tackles many subjects like racism, sexism, gender norms and business. The tale of Sarah Breedlove – Madam C. J. Walker – paved the way for many other dark skinned woman to create what they need and make a living out of it. When I watch movies with a leading woman, of any race, it gives me confidence to pursue any career I want. It also reminds me to be stand up for myself as well as be confident about who I am and where I’m from. As much as I want to say that we should not pay attention to gender or race, I cannot. All these inspiring stories are inspiring because the main characters embraced what made them different and left their mark on the world with those exacts differences. Madam C. J. Walker embraced the fact that she was a dark skinned woman, pushed through social and gender norms, worked hard, made a millionaire of herself and that’s why her story is, now, a four part series on the biggest streaming network of 2020. To add, I see a pattern of women who have been discriminated for their gender, as well as their race, have bigger breakthroughs than men and women who are more socially accept for their race.
One thought on “Blog 7: Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker”
I just started watching Self-Made and it’s an amazing story. Octavia Spencer is an amazing actress and I have so much respect for how this show decided to dive into colorism because I haven’t seen many shows or movies go into this topic but it’s still a very real issue, especially colorism towards women.