The unbelievable story of Madam C.J. Walker appears made for TV.
A girl, born Sarah Breedlove to recently-freed slaves, turns into a teenage mom and struggles with hair loss earlier than creating a line of African American hair merchandise so profitable, she turns into America’s first feminine millionaire and, as a result of she has chutzpah, John D. Rockefeller’s New York neighbor.
Yet it took a century after Walker’s dying in 1919 for her to develop into the topic of a sequence.
Octavia Spencer stars in Netflix’s “Self Made: Inspired By the Life of Madam C.J., a four-episode sequence that streams March 20.
The present, tailored from Walker’s great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles’ e-book “On Her Own Ground” and directed by black girls (DeMand Davis and Kasi Lemmons), options loads of scorching combs, colourful coat attire and dreamlike imagery in a story of a girl who’s “a shining instance of black excellence,” Spencer says.
Spencer embodies Walker as a Southern-accented spark plug who by no means doubted she may make it huge. The restricted sequence follows Walker from a balding, struggling washerwoman who was knocked down by racial and gender biases to her rise as an astute businesswoman and fierce activist with fabulous hair and a thriving firm.
Blair Underwood performs Walker’s typically charming, typically jealous husband, and Tiffany Haddish co-stars as Walker’s free-spirited daughter.
Spencer, additionally a producer on the sequence alongside LeBron James, says Walker was “a standard-bearer in our dwelling” who represented “an understanding you can create your individual path in life and obtain the best degree, even in the event you have been born of nothing.”
Plenty of different girls of coloration have lengthy recognized Walker the identical manner.
At this 12 months’s Essence Black Women in Hollywood occasion, when requested which historic determine they’d prefer to play onscreen, multiple actress named Walker.
For instance, “This Is Us” star Shahadi Wright Joseph barely paused earlier than answering.
“(Madam C.J. Walker) has always empowered me so much for what she’s done for black women by being the first woman millionaire,” said Shahadi Wright Joseph, 14 (“This Is Us”). “There needs to be more education about her.”
Yet “Self Made” is the first major film or TV project (aside from 1989 PBS documentary “Two Dollars and a Dream”) a few lady who “is kind of a god,” as Allure vogue director Rajni Jacques describes her. “She is so well known in the black community. (Her legacy) goes beyond hair.” As Spencer places it, Walker “constructed a way of group and allowed black girls to create their very own destinies.”
So why haven’t we seen her onscreen earlier than? It’s not for lack of attempting.
Bundles, the 2001 e-book’s writer, says that again in 1982, “Roots” author Alex Haley approached her a few Walker-inspired miniseries.
But it by no means obtained off the bottom earlier than he died a decade later. Her e-book was optioned by CBS, after which HBO. But these initiatives by no means panned out, both.
“And then there was this period of time for about a decade when the conventional wisdom in Hollywood was ‘No black films, nobody’s interested in these overseas,’” says Bundles.
The temper finally shifted, and Spencer considers the success of “Hidden Figures,” her Oscar-nominated 2016 movie about black girls at NASA, a turning level.
“I think people wanted to see more stories like that. So we had a few people that were interested in making (a Madam C.J. Walker project), and Netflix is who we landed with.”
Spencer says it is the fitting time to inform Walker’s story.
“We’re at an inflection point with women coming into power, especially in the political process. We need to see these types of images,” she says. “If (real-life ‘Hidden Figures’ subjects) Katherine (Johnson), Dorothy (Vaughan) and Mary (Jackson) inspired more women to be a part of the space program and STEM, and did that for young female scientists, imagine what Madam will represent for female entrepreneurship.”