Made for television, self- made is a four part series based on the life of Madame C.J. Walker.
Except, its more than that: The series manages to include all the issues of the day (domestic violence, racism, classism, colorism, lynching, misogyny, lesbianism, classism, shifting standards of beauty, family structure, legacy of slavery), and more!
The series has generated lively and emotionally charged conversations about these issues; opening up a dynamic dialogue. That’s good.
The issue of beauty standards and colorism seem to spark the most heightened emotions: our hair textures, our skin tones, nose shapes and other markers of ‘black’ aesthetic preferences are hot topics of discourse, discrimination (especially within our own community), and growing dismay.
The television series highlighted these issues through the villainous portrayal of Madame Walker’s composite rivalAddie Munroe. That she was depicted as fair skinned, with long hair, and, who approximated the European model of beauty, was underscored by Madame’s rejection of the Gibson Girl prototype for her product promotion. Good for Madame.
We have all beneﬁted from how the main stream beauty industry has been revolutionized to include all of our shades of black and our wide-ranging body shapes. Thank you Rihanna, Fashion Fair, Black Opal, et al!
Question: why are we, in 2020, still talking about the “paper bag test” and other artiﬁcial measurements of acceptance? Acceptable to who?
The real debate should be about owning our businesses; controlling and policing our own communities; getting elected to hold power; lifting one another up-yes, women and men can work together in mutuality- can’t we?
We will never rise above until we abandon false judgements of ourselves, one another.
The best line in the movie was Madame’s retort to her rival, that “they” are killing us (there was a lynching) and that the petty differences between the two of them needed to be put aside to ﬁght against the bigger problem.
Please keep in mind that the series is a ﬁctionalized adaptation of a book that was written by one of Madame’s descendants; the public relations version of her life. I’m not upset about that, but I do believe that, once again, it proves Maya Angelou right: We all need to write our own story-warts and all!
I have admired Madame C.J. for all my life. I, like many of you, grew up hearing about her story, and she was truly a role model.
Back in the early 2000s, I had the privilege to visit her home when it was still owned by a private citizen, and where I stayed overnight. Decades earlier, I had attended college “up the street” from her estate (Marymount College on the Hudson), and her home was legendary, even then.
Yes, Madame C.J. Walker is one for the history books, but there are so many others are, too.
Take the ﬁctionalized rival in the Netflix series: the real Annie Turnbo Malone, who gave Sara Breedlove, nee Madame, a start in her beauty business. A successful entrepreneur in her own right, Annie is less celebrated. Where is the book about her story?
Don’t forget about Maggie Lena Walker, the ﬁrst black woman bank president, Richmond, Va. She is a little better known, and there are a few books about her!
The famed Ida B. Wells could have lived the life of a millionaire, married to a wealthy man, but she choose activism and used her press to advocate against lynching. There are books about her.
Mary Pleasant was an entrepreneur who helped develop San Francisco as a banker, abolitionist. There are books about her.
Taking nothing away from Madame C.J. Walker and her accomplishments, I urge you to research other outstanding black women entrepreneurs and their contributions to our society.
Get inspired. Dream big. Go out and do something to continue the struggle against all those “isms.”
Let theirs and Madame C. J. Walker’s lives (the truth of it as well as the ﬁctionalized version) motivate you.
There can be more than one Oprah!
And don’t forget to vote. Vote. VOTE!