Madam C.J. Walker is the inspiring tale we need right now.
A recently released Netflix miniseries starring Octavia Spencer details the life of Sarah Breedlove, who created and sold hair products for African American women at the turn of the 20th century. Breedlove, who was also African American — and the first “self-made” female millionaire — achieved success despite countless obstacles, including discrimination.
Now, “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of C.J. Walker” tells her rags-to-riches story, and it has become a vehicle for Spencer to educate others about the entrepreneur’s extraordinary existence.
“I knew about her since I was a little girl because my mother taught us about her,” Spencer said, according to the Associated Press. “We were from humble beginnings and Madam was from humble beginnings. She dictated her path in life, and what an inspirational and aspirational story to use as an example for young people who were from nothing.”
The miniseries almost never saw the light of day.
Spencer, who claimed a contract dispute, nearly walked away from the project until basketball superstar LeBron James and his business partner, Maverick Carter, stepped in. Along with Spencer, they served as executive producers.
Spencer, who said she was “prepared to graciously walk away,” said it was unfortunate that the two men had to intervene on her behalf.
“It’s terrible they had to, but they did,” Spencer said. “And that’s what we all need sometimes in the negotiating process. But you also have to be ready to say, ‘Thank you for thinking of me.’”
The four-part drama is based on a book by Breedlove’s great-great-granddaughter, author and journalist A’Lelia Bundles, titled On Her Own Ground.
Shampoos, conditioners and hair masks are still sold in stores today under the Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture brand. In 2013, according to Vanity Fair, Sundial Brands purchased the haircare line.
Sundial cofounder Richelieu Dennis went one step further and also bought Breedlove’s estate in Irvington, New York, in 2018, saying he aims to convert the 34-room, 28,000-square-foot home into a think tank for black female entrepreneurs.
Bundles said her great-great-grandmother would be pleased her legacy is being preserved.
“I think she hoped this house would still be standing,” Bundles told ABC News. “But I don’t know that she could have imagined the amazing things that are getting ready to happen here.”