Netflix is making a series about a daughter of slaves who became a black hair care mogul

Oscar winner Octavia Spencer will portray the first female self-made millionaire in America.
Oscar winner Octavia Spencer will portray the first female self-made millionaire in America.
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The incredible story of Madam C.J. Walker, a black hair care mogul and the first self-made female millionaire in American history, is coming to Netflix, the streaming service has announced. Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar in 2011 for The Help, will portray Walker.

And, speaking of self-made moguls, budding entertainment icon LeBron James will executive produce the series (along with Spencer) via his SpringHill production company. James, the newest member of the Los Angeles Lakers, is expected to continue pursuing his TV and film ambitions now that he’s based in the entertainment capital of the world.

The project is one of a diverse slate of new and renewed shows that Netflix announced at the Television Critics Association press tour yesterday (July 29). The streaming service will spend approximately $8 billion on programming this year, spread across more than 700 original TV series and films.

Amid that massive deluge of content, this is one worth paying attention to: the fascinating history of a pioneer in what’s since become a multi-billion-dollar global industry. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 to former slave parents, was the first member of her family to be born into freedom, following the end of the American Civil War. She was orphaned at the age of 7 and married for the first time at 14 to escape her abusive brother-in-law. She worked as a domestic worker and laundress before becoming a sales agent for Annie Malone, a black cosmetics entrepreneur.

After marrying her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, Sarah changed her name to “Madam” C.J. Walker and launched a hair care company of her own, selling “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower,” a scalp-healing formula that she claimed came to her in a dream. (Walker had began experiencing hair loss in the 1890s, common for African Americans at the time due to poor hair products and the lack of access to electricity and plumbing.)

Walker traveled the country, selling products and teaching her techniques to black women. By the 1910s, her company had become a hair care empire, employing thousands of people. She later became a philanthropist and activist and made the acquaintance of a number of prominent civil rights leaders, including W.E.B. Du Bois.

The Netflix series will be based on the book On Our Own Ground by a A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great-great-granddaughter who’s also consulting on the show.