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

TV review by
Lynnette Nicholas, Common Sense Media
Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker TV Poster Image
Parents recommend
Solid drama highlights the life of legendary entrepreneur.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

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We think this TV show stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Shows power of perseverance and tenacity during a time in American history when women were not taken as seriously as men, and positive benefits of not allowing a spouse/partner to limit your dreams and goals. A woman defies gender stereotypes, is bold in face of societal norms, provides opportunities for other women in the process. Spirit of entrepreneurship is personified, as are ideals of being self-sufficient; notion of generational wealth is depicted.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Walker's story is truly one of going from rags to riches. With perseverance, bravery, teamwork, hard work, she went from being a washerwoman to one of the wealthiest women in America. She did not marry into money -- she created her own wealth. She also trained other women to be self-sufficient businesswomen. Ransom, a genuine gentleman, personifies what it means to be a loyal friend and business partner. Though she has her flaws, Addie showcases competitive spirit -- and that it's possible to be both beautiful and intelligent. 


A woman is slapped by her husband, who later walks away from their marriage. 


Some sexual innuendo, light kissing by adults in first episode. In a later episode, a sex scene between two consenting adults is graphic; no nudity visible on-screen. Also in a later episode: an attempted rape of a woman.


Some adult language: grown men are called "boy." Words "f--k you" and "s--t" are used once. Parents will need to explain to their teenagers the difference between the "N" word, which has a negative connotation, and "Negro," which was an appropriate term for this time period that Blacks used as well as others.


There's a major theme of making money as well as wealth building in the series. However, consumerism in most cases does not carry a negative connotation. Fancy cars are purchased, and luxurious homes are purchased and built.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some adult drinking and cigar smoking in private homes, and in a few saloon scenes.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCLS2002 March 20, 2020

Inspiring but not for kids

The summary is pretty accurate as is the "counts" for the parental guidance things. However, the "consensual sex between adults" actually is... Continue reading
Adult Written byMP1980 April 13, 2020

Great content. Very inspirational, but two inappropriate sex scenes.

We watched it as a family with our 12 year old and our 14 year old. The series was entertaining and inspirational. The content was great for 12+, but the two sh... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byFewt June 21, 2020


I found this tv show while looking for more movies on the black lives matter topic. I found this show to be both entertaining and educational. I feel as though... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byJordancarter March 21, 2020


Love it! Thought it was very inspiring,educational. It shows the wonderful story of Madam cj walker and her struggles and good outcomes. As far as the content.... Continue reading

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? 

  • Who are the female role models in Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker? What are some of the character strengths that these female role models convey? 

  • 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?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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