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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker is a drama series about a successful African American female entrepreneur in the late 1800s. Directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou, Harriet) and DeMane Davis (Queen Sugar), Walker's journey isn't all glamour and sophistication, as viewers see her trials, failed relationships, and the tenacity that it took to be an entrepreneur and trailblazer. There are some gender stereotypes, a woman is slapped and abandoned by her husband, and it has a few adult love scenes with no nudity, though one scene is graphic and there's sexual innuendo. Rare swearing includes "s--t" and "f--k," and adult men are called "boy." Parents will need to explain to their teenagers the difference between the "N" word, which has a negative connotation associated with it, and the word "Negro," which was an appropriate term for this time period that African Americans used as well as others.There's a small amount of drinking done by adults. However, there are very powerful themes of courage, perseverance, working hard to achieve goals, and not allowing societal norms to limit one's potential. There's also very powerful messaging on being self-sufficient and not depending on a man or spouse for money. This series provides a great opportunity to share with teens and adults alike about Walker's philanthropic legacy as well as the contributions that she made to the hair care industry.
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What's the story?
SELF MADE: INSPIRED BY THE LIFE OF MADAM C.J. WALKER is a four-part television series based on the book On Her Own Ground, which was written by A'Lelia Bundles and based loosely on the life of the legendary self-made millionaire Madam C.J. Walker (Octavia Spencer), her husband C.J. Walker (Blair Underwood), and her only child, Leila (Tiffany Haddish). This inspirational story centers on Walker and her rise from a washerwoman to a trailblazing entrepreneur who built a hair care empire that made her America's first female self-made millionaire.
Is it any good?
The series provides a sophisticated perspective of how astute, cultured, and hard-working African Americans navigated, endured, and even overcame setbacks. Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker highlights several prominent African American figures, including Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and more, as well as prominent, historically Black institutions like Tuskegee Institute and Spelman College during a very pivotal time in American history. Overall, the series does a good job of providing a glimpse of what life was like for middle-class and elite members of African American society in the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Through the plights of both Addie Monroe (Carmen Ejogo), a light-skinned Black woman, and Walker, viewers get a glimpse of the residue of colonialism and slavery in the form of colorism, an issue in African American communities for many generations.
However, while the legacy and story of Walker is both inspirational and powerful, and the set design wonderfully detailed, the series has some distracting production elements. The music soundtrack feels too modern for the time period, and the present-day boxing scenes don't add much to the overall storyline. Standouts include Blair Underwood in his role as Walker's second husband, C.J. Walker; the amazingly talented Roger Guenveur Smith as Booker T. Washington; and Carmen Ejogo, who masterfully portrays a fierce competitor who has internalized a superiority complex as a result of having a fairer complexion. Viewers will be inspired as they watch a woman ahead of her time carve out her place in history during a time period when social norms called for women to let the men take the lead in matters of business.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ways in which Madam C.J. Walker defied gender stereotypes about women during the time period in which she lived. Was this common at the time?
Teamwork, perseverance, and entrepreneurship are all themes in this series. What is entrepreneurship? What's the connection between entrepreneurship and perseverance? What are some examples of the perseverance displayed by Walker?
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