How A lot of Netflix’s Self Made: Impressed By the Lifetime of Madam C.J. Walker Truly Occurred?

For those who watched the primary episode of Netflix’s new collection Self Made: Impressed by the Lifetime of Madam C.J. Walker, you are in all probability questioning the “impressed” within the title. It’s fairly obvious the miniseries is not your commonplace biopic, however that does not make the real-life Madam Walker any much less daring or audacious.

Tailored from On Her Personal Floor, a biography by Walker’s great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, Self Made tells the rags-to-riches story of Sarah Breedlove, a former washerwoman who turned a magnificence tycoon after making a line of hair merchandise for black girls. There are two details you might want to learn about Walker: She was actual, and she or he was a powerhouse. A century later, you possibly can nonetheless see her affect on the wonder business, and Sephora even launched a collection of Madam Walker-inspired merchandise.

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker


Self Made: Impressed by the Lifetime of Madam C.J. Walker

Her story in Self Made is a fierce call-to-action for any hopeful entrepreneur, however that doesn’t imply viewers received’t stroll away with questions. Beneath, we assess what’s truth and what’s fiction in Netflix’s latest collection.

(Spoilers for Self Made beneath.)

Was Walker orphaned by seven and married by 14?

Sure. Her mother and father, Owen and Minerva, had been previously enslaved individuals freed earlier than her delivery in Louisiana in 1867. In line with Historical, Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) was their fifth baby and the primary within the household born free. Her mother and father died earlier than she was seven, and she or he went to work in cotton fields, in accordance with PBS. To flee her abusive brother-in-law, Walker married Moses McWilliams at age 14. Their daughter Lelia was born when Walker was 18, however McWilliams died from unknown causes by the point she was 20. She married twice extra, to John Davis after which, after all, C.J. Walker.

Had been Sarah’s three brothers all barbers?

Sure, and she or he realized hair care by way of them after her first husband died, in accordance with On Her Personal Floor and the Nationwide Belief For Historic Preservation (NTHP).

Madam C.J. Walker Portrait

Madam C.J. Walker circa 1914.

Michael Ochs ArchivesGetty Photographs

Was Addie Munroe an actual individual?

Sure and no. There was by no means an Addie Munroe (she is seemingly a composite of a number of characters from Walker’s period, in accordance with the NTHP), however there was an Annie Turnbo Malone.


Carmen Ejogo as Addie Munroe in Self Made.

Amanda Matlovich/Netflix

Malone bought her personal hair care merchandise, which Walker relied on when neglect, micro organism, air pollution and lice brought on her to develop a scalp illness, in accordance with However, not like in Self Made, Walker did truly promote Malone’s merchandise. Within the present, Addie refuses to let Walker turn into certainly one of her saleswomen, telling her that she doesn’t have the proper “look.” In different phrases, she wasn’t a black “Gibson Woman,” a turn-of-the-century promoting icon drawn to personify the perfect feminine. This merciless remark launches their rivalry, as Walker rightfully believes girls of colour mustn’t should aspire to a white commonplace of magnificence.

However in actuality, this change possible by no means occurred. Walker bought Malone hair care merchandise in St. Louis and Denver, in accordance with Bundles’ biographical weblog, earlier than marrying C.J. Walker and launching her personal line.

Had been Malone and Walker truly rivals?

Sure, although the occasions round their feud aren’t as clear as Self Made makes them out to be. Bundles writes that, not lengthy after Walker and C.J. married, “there was a rift of some variety…that brought on Madam Walker to sever ties with Malone.” There are few clues as to what precisely occurred, although Bundles believes they had been by no means shut allies. “I’ve come to consider that the connection with Malone was an vital catalyst that helped Sarah Breedlove McWilliams escape St. Louis and a troubled second marriage,” Bundles writes. “However I’ve additionally come to assume the connection was extra transactional than collaborative.”

There’s additionally no proof that Malone recruited Walker’s son-in-law to collect her secrets and techniques, nor that she poached Walker’s employees.

Did Walker steal Malone’s formulation to create her “Great Hair Grower”?

That is additionally shrouded in thriller: Was Walker’s hair grower a replica of Malone’s? In line with Collectors Weekly, Malone wrote a letter in a Denver newspaper accusing Walker of stealing her recipe. Though Walker’s hair grower was certainly a tweaked model of Annie’s, it is troublesome to say whether or not it was instantly copied. A number of different girls bought comparable “secret” formulation on the time, in accordance with Bundles, so it’s unlikely all of them got here from the identical supply.

Madam C.J. Walker Driving

Madam C.J. Walker driving a automobile circa 1911.

Smith Assortment/GadoGetty Photographs

Was Sarah’s son-in-law the precise worst, like he’s within the present?

Lelia Walker’s first husband, John Robinson, did certainly appear to be…not nice. He was a resort employee whom she divorced in 1914, in accordance with Bundles, and there’s no proof he ever opened that legendary juke joint he promised in Self Made. Contemplating Lelia went on to marry twice extra, he won’t have been the worst of the brood, nonetheless.

Did Walker additionally marry greater than as soon as?

She married 3 times. Her first husband died, and the opposite two (together with C.J., ugh) each cheated on her. She deserved higher.

Was Booker T. Washington that sexist?

Early in Self Made, when Walker tries to get Booker T. Washington to endorse her product, she interrupts his speech in an effort to nook him. He later tells Walker, “The negro man must be lifted first.” As in, black girls come second. Oh, and he thinks beauty merchandise are frivolous.

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington.

Interim ArchivesGetty Photographs

The fact of Walker’s change with Washington was somewhat totally different. In line with an article by Bundles, Walker did want to converse on the 1912 Nationwide Negro Enterprise League, the place she tried to attach with Washington, on the time some of the highly effective African-American males alive. He ignored her at first, like in Self Made, partially as a result of he believed her merchandise spurred black girls to attempt to appear like white girls.

On the conference, Walker stood up and addressed him from the viewers. He was certainly irritated by her efficiency, Bundles writes, although there’s no proof of a contentious change afterward. As a substitute, Walker ultimately turned one thing like an ally to Washington. He visited her dwelling throughout the dedication of the Indianapolis YMCA; she contributed cash to the Tuskegee Institute, which he based; and a 12 months later, on the subsequent NNBL conference, he introduced her on as a keynote speaker.

Did Lelia actually transfer to New York and run the Darkish Tower salon in Harlem?

Sure. However there’s way more to Lelia’s story than in Self Made. Bundles, who’s writing a brand new e-book about Lelia titled The Pleasure Goddess of Harlem (due in 2021), writes that Lelia, later generally known as A’Lelia, was a patron of the humanities, an eccentric and flamboyant hostess, a vogue trendsetter, and even a defining voice of the Harlem Renaissance. When she died in 1931, Langston Hughes himself wrote it was “the top of an period.”

A'Lelia Walker Getting a Manicure

A’Lelia Walker will get a manicure at certainly one of Madam C.J. Walker’s magnificence outlets.

George RinhartGetty Photographs

Was Lelia homosexual, and was Esther an actual individual?

Though Self Made hints at A’Lelia’s sexual orientation, there’s no definitive proof that A’Lelia was homosexual, and the real-life Esther didn’t exist. Nonetheless, we do know that Lelia was extremely progressive for her time, and Bundles informed that she believes A’Lelia might need dated a lady after her third marriage ended.

A’Lelia’s lavish events had been identified to be secure havens for individuals of all sexual identities. Mabel Hampton, a lesbian activist, dancer, and key determine within the Harlem Renaissance, remembered the events in a 1983 interview (by way of NPR): “There was women and men, girls and ladies, and males and males. And everybody did no matter they wished to do.”

A'Lelia Bundles is a descendant of Madam C. J. Walker, who was the first black woman millionaire in the United States.

A’Lelia Bundles.

The Washington SubmitGetty Photographs

Was Walker really America’s first self-made feminine millionaire?

That is an argument that continues to this present day. Madam C.J. Walker is credited as the primary self-made feminine millionaire within the Guinness Guide of World Data, although some have tried to argue that Annie Turnbo Malone was, in actual fact, the primary. Bundles has a wonderful breakdown of this debate on her weblog, concluding that it is not possible to know the worth of Malone’s property as a result of these data are misplaced to historical past.

Did Walker die of kidney failure?

Sure, from kidney failure and hypertension, in 1919. Her daughter, A’Lelia, died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1931. Their legacies dwell on by way of Bundles and the tens of millions of women and men they’ve influenced.

Lauren Puckett is a author and assistant for Hearst Magazines, the place she covers tradition and way of life.

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