Netflix Series Celebrates Strong Women of Color
By Matt D’Silva
Netflix has started streaming a fascinating doco/drama, Self Made, about the life of Madam C.J. Walker. Madam Walker, for those of you who don’t know her story, she made a name for herself selling hair products to the African American community and made her fortune against all odds. Making a name for yourself is hard, especially hard if you are a minority, but this is exactly what Madam C. J. Walker did for herself for at the turn of the 20th Century.
Loosely based around the biography written by A’Lelia Bundles, great-great granddaughter of C. J. Walker, the story details the struggles Madam Walker faced when setting up her cosmetics company. There are a small number of successful business women at the beginning of the 20th Century and it is great that C. J. Walker’s story is being celebrated and told.
A lot of success stories about strong female characters often have a feud with an equally strong female competitor, think Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden and in the case of Self Made we have a feud between Madam C. J. Walker and fictional character Addie Munroe, based off real-life figure Annie Turnbo Malone.
Addie Munroe, in Self Made, runs a successful haircare business, she employs C. J. Walker to help with business. C. J. Walker develops her own product that is a vast improvement and becomes very popular and from this success starts her own business, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.
The production has taken some very creative liberties with the use of R&B and Hip Hop as the soundtrack, but Self Made is a celebration of Black history and Black culture and the juxtaposition of the music against the early 20th century story works. As this is a doco/drama you have to realize that embellishments has been made to make the show more entertaining and work for the screen.
The cast of Self Made are stellar, a celebration of great actors. Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, Carmen Ejogo, Garret Morris, Kevin Carroll and Blair Underwood with guest appearances by William Bellamy and Mouna Traore.
But standout is Octavia as Madam C. J. Walker. This is one stunning performance that is an embodiment of the character. All the other actors enhance the story but Octavia is just perfect and watching her on the screen is pure enjoyment.
A story about a strong woman who believes in herself and strives to continually improve her situation is an inspiring story. To realize that it is actually a true story that Self Made is loosely based makes it even more intriguing. The idea that someone with an overwhelming sense of determination and drive to succeed in a time when it was near impossible for women or women of color to be taken seriously is an outstanding story that must be remembered.
As we continue to be housebound during the pandemic one positive is the time to invest in shows on the streaming services that wouldn’t normally occupy our mind. Seeing Self Made got me to do some research and was surprised to learn the back story of Madam C. J. Walker and her incredible history.
Do yourself a favor and watch Self Made with Octavia Spencer on Netflix.
Another Australian living in New York seeing what experiences it will bring. Don’t get me wrong, this has been a dream… about 16 years in the making!