FILM REVIEW | Self Made: inspired by Madam CJ Walker
Self Made inspired by the life of Madame CJ Walker as an isolated piece of media is an astounding film. The cast, the costumes and the cinematography of the series were terrific. However as we pan back to the wider context there are many glaring historical inaccuracies. The most obvious is perhaps Addie Monroe. Addie Monroe is portrayed as a vindictive, scheming “high yellow gal” who serves as a manipulative rival to Madame Walker and represents one of Walkers deepest insecurities; her distance from Eurocentric beauty ideals and respectability.
Addie Munroe is loosely based on Annie Malone, who in real life was a rival of Madame Walker’s and similarly to Munroe, mentored Walker for approximately 2 years. Annie Malone was an educated dark skinned black woman who had a K-12 education and a chemistry background, she grew up in the North of America.
The series misrepresents her to be vindictive and scheming, tarnishing the actual legacy of Malone who was in her own right a successful female entrepreneur who became a millionaire. There are not enough black biopics for filmmakers to be taking such huge liberties. Can we guarantee that Malone will get another biopic that depicts her philanthropy and her dedication towards her community ? No, and therefore it’s wrong to tarnish her legacy.
The series, despite focusing on the business around her, never truly goes into the politics of straightening and hair and why women felt the need to grow their hair to achieve true beauty. Although we will never truly know what side of respectability politics Madame Walker was campaigning for, the show didn’t give enough nuance to the intricacies ; why did Madame Walker want to improve black hair beyond improving communities ? What did that mean for black women who were trying to get jobs ? And as the character of Brooker T Washington said, "Why should we support Eurocentric standards of beauty".
Instead the show shows us her being tormented by light skinned figures such as CJ’s Walker girl, Dora and Addie giving the impression that she started her business from a place of jealousy and insecurity.
The writers of the series had more than adequate source material - a biography written by the Great-granddaughter of walker herself, A’Leila Bundles and chose to take creative liberties instead of showing the truth.