If you’re getting bored with staying home, working on crossword puzzles, and streaming action films on your computer and TV, I’ve got something better for you to see. While surfing thru Netflix I found “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.”
I had never heard of Madam C.J. Walker, but I recognized the image of Octavia Spencer. Spencer was one of the leads in Hidden Figures, the film about the “. . . brilliant African-American women working at NASA who served as the brains behind the launch into orbit of astronaut John Glenn, a stunning achievement that turned around the Space Race. The visionary trio crossed all gender and racial lines and inspired generations.” – 20th Century Studios
Spencer is only five-foot-two, but she played a feisty force-to-be-reckoned-with well in Hidden Figures. She does the same in Self Made. She fights an uphill battle of treachery against betrayal from both competitors and family members.
Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker tells the story of C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 on a cotton plantation in Louisiana. The film showcases the talents and drive of America’s first black female self-made millionaire. She was a hard worker who fought against prejudice as a woman and as African-American.
She was a laundress, who eked out a meager living. “I was at my tubs one morning with a heavy wash before me,” she told the New York Times in 1917. “As I bent over the washboard and looked at my arms buried in soapsuds, I said to myself: ‘What are you going to do when you grow old and your back gets stiff? Who is going to take care of your little girl?’”
She created a hair-care product for black women and sold it at the open air farmer’s markets of her day. She encouraged women who used her products to sell her family-produced hair treatments. She added the title “Madam” to her name in order to stand out as a person who commanded respect. She fought against racism and sexism as she invented and sold more hair-care products. She was at odds with Booker T. Washington, friends with W.E.B. Du Bois, and eventually the neighbor of John D. Rockefeller.
Walker not only created her products, but manufactured them as well.
“At a time when unskilled white workers earned about $11 a week, Walker’s agents were making $5 to $15 a day, pioneering a system of multilevel marketing that Walker and her associates perfected for the black market,” Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote in Time. “More than any other single businessperson, Walker unveiled the vast economic potential of an African-American economy, even one stifled and suffocating under Jim Crow.”
Spencer has spunk and commands attention. The four part series can be watched in one evening. It’s inspirational for all who want to improve our world both in business and community. Walker fought not only for recognition of her own efforts, but those who worked and achieved with her. She contributed to the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), paid tuition for students at the Tuskegee Institute and worked to make lynching a federal crime.
Walker never held back, but drove ahead of the expected norm.
This movie is a primer for people in business, and people concerned about our country and freedom. Madam C.J. Walker is remembered for her energy as an entrepreneur, someone who could see further than just making sales; as a creator, developing products that filled a need; and as a philanthropist, whose work will and should be never forgotten.