Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker

Review: ‘Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C.J. Walker’

Besides saving lives, of course, another upside to social distancing is having the time to enjoy some entertainment. On my Twitter timeline, people decided that this was a perfect time to do a re-watch of Beyonce’s epic Homecoming. Though I didn’t live tweet, I did re-watch parts of it and found that I was just as awestruck and inspired as I was the first time I saw it.

Already on a “I am a woman; I can do anything high”, I decided to watch the Netflix limited series Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C.J. Walker. Why did I do that? Now, you cannot tell me A DAMN THING! It was sad at times, pissed me off at times, but more than anything, it made me want to dream and live bigger than I ever thought possible. That’s the power of story telling, especially the telling of stories that never seem to be deemed important enough to tell.

Making Your Way When People Turn You Away


Octavia Spencer perfectly explores the ups and downs of Madame C.J. Walker’s life. The story does not sugar coat her battles with colorism and how it affected her self-esteem for years. In fact, it leans into that part of her life very hard; though it haunted and pained her, that rejection propelled her to create her first hair care product.

There is a serious tone, but the series infuses humor throughout. One of the most interesting choices the creators made was to have Walker narrate between scenes-often in a boxing ring fighting or prepping for a fight. She did fight many obstacles to become the first self-made female millionaire. She fought someone she considered a friend, she fought against misogyny from none other than Black men, and she even fought those who she gave an opportunity.

What the story does better than anything is clearly document the power in making your own way. Walker never took no for an answer. When she was told no, she took that as a challenge and found another way to pursue her dreams that was even bigger than the idea she had before.

What Love Can Do


Walker struggled with self-esteem at a time when colorism was rampant. Having light skin and curly hair was the standard of beauty in the Black community – funny how that hasn’t changed all that much, more than a century later. Because Walker wasn’t deemed a traditional beauty, she dealt with that dreaded inner voice that tried to drag her down. Many of us have that voice that whispers in our heads. I know I have it. Some days it’s more quiet than others, but it never goes away. Walker’s never went away either, but it did grow quiet when she met and married C. J. Walker.

Though he was by no means perfect, the story seemed to suggest that his adoration of her beauty just as it was, helped her to move forward when that voice got too loud. C.J. ended up not being able to handle the Madame’s ambition, so like a weak ass man, he cheated on her. And he did it with the one person he knew would break his wife’s heart – a fair skinned, curly haired low down h- I mean woman. Whew, what a bastard!

Well, like the boss she was, she moved on and turned her business into an empire. “Never run back to what broke you.”- Madame C.J.Walker

The Fate of a Black Woman


As inspired as I am after watching this beautiful series, I am left saddened about how early Madame C.J. Walker’s life was cut short. Though she did more with her life than most people ever will, she died much too young and of a disease that still haunts Black Americans at far too great a rate. Hypertension destroyed her life, and sadly that of her only daughter too.

This series is not only a valuable lesson on the life of a self made entrepreneur who broke barriers, it is a call to arms to Black Americans about the dangers of high blood pressure. I am making sure to get myself checked out as soon as possible.

Other Things I was Thinking as I Watched

  • The costumes, set pieces and locations were gorgeous! The creative team truly captured the time period elegantly. Black girl magic at work!
  • Black women’s hair has been a source of shame and pride since before my time, and it still is today. So much of our self worth is in our appearance, in our hair. Do women of other races feel this way?
  • The casting of this series was so good! Tiffany Haddish was a gem as her daughter, Leila. Blair Underwood was a charmer (until he wasn’t) as C.J. Carmen Ejogo as her nemesis Addie did a perfect job of making you want to punch her in the face, but also seeing her humanity.
  • Blair Underwood really has been fine ALL his life. Damn!
  • Her daughter’s love life was not shied away from at all. The way Leila’s eyes lit up when she talked about moving to Harlem reminded me of tales I heard when I studied the Harlem Renaissance. The freedom she craved and the love that she wanted was just out of reach until her mother was able to let go of old notions about same sex relationships.
  • I could smell the hot combs and hair grease during many of the salon scenes. My childhood in the kitchen by the stove flashed before my eyes.
  • I wish I could have tried some of Madame C.J. Walker’s products. Black women were enthralled with her. Is there an equal today?

My Verdict


Wow! As a woman, Madame C.J. Walker’s journey is a powerful one. And as a Black woman, to see it on screen fills me with great pride. At a time when even some Black men didn’t see us as fit to do anything besides stay at home, the female child of two former slaves made good on her dream. She not only dreamed for herself, she dreamed for her people, for Black women especially. Thank you Madame C.J. Walker; for today, your legacy of dreaming big endures. Beyonce and her homecoming are living proof.

If you are looking to laugh, cry and have a fire lit under you, Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C.J. Walker is a must see. You can check it out on Netflix.

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  1. This reminds me of The Color Purple. Haddish was a gem? Aren’t gems worth the value a group places on them? At one time, diamonds were so abundant and useless, Africans didn’t really use them, but once white people saw the shiny things, they became valuable. Was it necessary to portray her as a lesbian with contemporary dialogue and speech patterns?

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