By now you may have heard about the Netflix miniseries ‘Self Made’. If you haven’t, it’s a four-part series inspired by the life of Madam C.J. Walker and I would highly recommend it. Madam C.J Walker was an African American entrepreneur, philanthropist and political and social activist. She is recorded as being the first self-made female millionaire in America in the Guiness Book of World Records.
I watched the series in one sitting with my younger sister and as a businesswoman, I found it truly inspiring. The series depicts Madam C.J. Walker (MW) as a tenacious, ambitious and driven woman who will stop at nothing to achieve her dreams and I loved it. In the past few months, I’ve made it my personal mission to be a go getter and be confident enough to step out and pursue my dreams unapologetically. So to see MW do just that and soar the way she did reaffirmed my belief that I can achieve anything, provided I put myself out there boldly.
As much as I believe it was an inspiring series, there were a number of concurrent themes running alongside the main storyline of MW building her business that are all too familiar within the black community.
[SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED IT AND DON’T WANT ANY SPOILERS, STOP READING NOW]
Mr CJ Walker
One thing that I found quite jarring throughout the series was the fact that as MW grew her business, her husband appeared to become more and more resentful towards her, which ultimately led him to cheating on her. I’ve since spoken with friends about this and a range of opinions have been shared but my initial thoughts when watching this particular storyline unfold was “can black men not date a woman that is more “successful” than them?”.
Now I’m aware that this is a very broad statement and many factors need to be taken into consideration when discussing something like this. Obviously, there is no definitive answer to this question but it is a topic that I’ve heard raised on more than one occasion. I’ve heard about women who actually “dumb down” what they do to appear more appealing to men. I just don’t think that’s okay! In the society we live in today it seems bizarre to me that a woman’s career/ ambition/ success even has to come into question when entering a relationship. Ultimately, I think when it comes down to it, anyone who is secure within themselves and within their own successes wouldn’t be concerned about whether or not their partner is more successful than them.
Another theme that ran alongside the main storyline was Addie Monroe (MW’s biggest rival) constantly trying to tear down MW’s efforts and destroy her. This felt all too familiar as it depicted the reality of the ever-present vendetta black women seemingly have with each other.
I feel fortunate in that my personal experience with black women has mostly been positive. The only real negative experience I’ve had were those I spoke about in black women don’t support each other. Although there can sometimes be a weird vibe when a new black woman starts at work, I honestly feel that for the most part black women really do support and encourage each other.
I feel that this story line was an attempt to further perpetrate the lie that black women don’t work well together. The reality is there are many examples of black women coming together, uplifting each other and achieving great things together.
When you read into the real Addie Monroe’s story, the hate that is portrayed in the Self-Made series seems somewhat exaggerated and in many cases unnecessary. Although the show is only “inspired” by the life of Madam C.J. Walker, it seems bizarre to me that that narrative is pressed upon so much within the series.
To wrap it up, despite what I’ve said I loved the series, I would recommend the series and I would definitely watch it again. Why? Because although the themes that run alongside the main story line essentially reinforce stereotypes and the same old narratives we’re constantly fed i.e. black men are trash and black women can’t work together. I still believe that in the midst of it all there is true beauty in Madam C.J. Walker’s story. This black woman, a child of a slave, built herself a business empire and became one of the first female millionaires in American history. Now isn’t that a story worth celebrating?