Netflix’s ‘Self-Made ’ miniseries about Madam C.J. Walker leaves out the mark she made through generosity


The Netflix collection “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” brings to life a part of a captivating rags-to-riches story I’ve been researching for the previous 10 years.

Walker, extensively documented to have been America’s first self-made feminine millionaire, made her fortune constructing an Indianapolis-based magnificence merchandise firm that served black girls throughout the U.S. and abroad. Today it presents a product line by Sephora.

Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer stars within the miniseries concerning the African American entrepreneur initially named Sarah Breedlove. Born shortly after emancipation in 1867 on a cotton plantation in Louisiana to a previously enslaved household, she later tailored the initials and final title of her third husband – performed by Blair Underwood within the collection. The present imagines Walker’s struggles and successes in a dramatic reinterpretation of the historic document.

I’ve been learning Walker’s archival collections for my upcoming e-book “Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow” and talking about her to audiences across the nation for years. I screened the collection with nice anticipation of how her lifelong generosity and activism can be portrayed on this account that “Indianapolis Monthly” described as having “fictional characters, invented moments, and a few surreal sequences.”

Her philanthropic legacy didn’t make the reduce – except for just a few visible footnotes simply earlier than ultimate credit roll. Those footnotes contact on her charitable giving to black faculties, social companies and activism with the NAACP.

While viewers will benefit from the collection, I need them to study that Walker didn’t simply reside a lifetime of hard-won opulence. She exemplified black girls’s generosity. Her philanthropy and activism imbued each side of her each day life. “I am not and never have been ‘close-fisted,’ for all who know me will tell you that I am a liberal hearted woman,” Walker informed the viewers of the 1913 National Negro League Business assembly sponsored by distinguished black chief Booker T. Washington.

Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer stars as Madam C.J. Walker within the Netflix miniseries ‘Self Made.’

More than cash

Walker distinguished herself on a philanthropic panorama dominated by white individuals. Men like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie turned to large-scale philanthropy after spending their lives accumulating wealth. In distinction, Walker’s giving started in earnest when she was a poor, younger, widowed mom struggling in St. Louis. She gave alongside the way in which from what she had, slightly than ready.

Netflix’s ‘Self-Made ’ miniseries about Madam C.J. Walker leaves out the mark she made through generosity
Madam C. J. Walker was the nation’s first self-made feminine millionaire. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

She had a lot in widespread with different black churchwomen, membership girls, educators and activists. Like Mary McLeod Bethune, Nannie Helen Burroughs and Ida B. Wells-Barnett – and tens of hundreds of different working and center class black girls – Walker embodied a flexible generosity that sought to satisfy communal wants and topple widespread discrimination.


Walker was a extremely prized donor within the black neighborhood. Constantly solicited, she gave cash to black-serving organizations throughout the Midwest and the South.

The Netflix miniseries briefly references her items to social companies. She supported organizations like Flanner House in Indianapolis, which helped African Americans get jobs, an training and childcare. She made positive that poor households might eat at Christmastime.

The “Indianapolis Freeman,” a black newspaper, reported in 1915 how her firm’s workplace resembled a grocery retailer because of all of the present baskets that had been stuffed with meals. In 1918, she gave US$500 to help the National Association of Colored Women’s marketing campaign to buy and protect Cedar Hill, house of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, which nonetheless stands as we speak in Washington, D.C.

Walker lacked formal training however she was a lifelong learner who donated hundreds of {dollars} to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and different black colleges.

She additionally patronized the humanities, supporting Indianapolis painters similar to William Edouard Scott and John Wesley Hardrick, whom she wished to assist acquire nationwide stature as an artist.

Netflix’s ‘Self-Made ’ miniseries about Madam C.J. Walker leaves out the mark she made through generosity
Walker, second from left, and Booker T. Washington (holding his hat) on the opening of a black YMCA in Indianapolis that she supported together with her personal cash and fundraising efforts. Madam C. J. Walker Collection, Indiana Historical Society, CC BY-ND

Time and expertise

In addition, Walker belonged to vital networks of girls that had been advancing the reason for freedom from the Jim Crow period’s racism and sexism.

Netflix’s ‘Self-Made ’ miniseries about Madam C.J. Walker leaves out the mark she made through generosity
The entrepreneur made her fortune by creating hair care merchandise for African American girls. Madam C. J. Walker Collection, Indiana Historical Society, CC BY-NC-ND

She helped the poor by the Mite Missionary Society of St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Louis. She supported the National Association of Colored Women, which offered instructional and social companies to black communities across the nation, and advocated for altering public insurance policies.


Walker additionally expressed her generosity by utilizing her voice to talk out in opposition to the injustices of Jim Crow discrimination and oppression. She drew consideration to sick and injured black troopers throughout World War I by visiting and entertaining them at army camps within the Midwest. To black and white audiences, she spoke out publicly about black troopers’ patriotic sacrifice abroad for freedoms denied them at house, and her full expectation that such freedoms be granted upon their return.

Netflix’s ‘Self-Made ’ miniseries about Madam C.J. Walker leaves out the mark she made through generosity
The miniseries relies on a e-book by A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great-great-granddaughter. Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post by way of Getty Images

At her first nationwide conference of her gross sales brokers held in Philadelphia, she and her brokers collectively raised their voices by a telegram in opposition to lynching despatched to President Woodrow Wilson. She wished the federal government to make lynching a federal crime.

Walker additionally advocated for temperance, girls’s suffrage, feminine empowerment and civil rights. She secured a pardon for a black man jailed for an alleged homicide in Mississippi. And she shared her personal encouraging story of success with audiences across the nation as an affirmative testimony of the worth and dignity of black life amid pervasive hateful and hurtful Jim Crow stereotypes.

‘Netflix and engage’

I hope that many viewers who see “Self-made” and really feel impressed by Walker’s story take into account a brand new solution to binge on TV: “Netflix and Engage.”

Learn extra about Madam Walker’s story by studying the biographical account written by her great-great-granddaughter – the journalist, A’Lelia Bundles – which impressed the collection. Explore different chapters in black girls’s historical past.

Surf Madam Walker’s digital archive of 40,000 objects on the Indiana Historical Society. Consider her affect on the musical and trend icon Rihanna and as we speak’s magnificence tradition business. Visit her firm’s former headquarters in Indianapolis. Admire the structure of her New York mansion the place girls of shade will probably be educated to develop into entrepreneurs.

Give to charity. March for a trigger.

Like Walker, you could make a distinction in somebody’s life.

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