Tiffany Haddish joins Oscar-winning actor Octavia Spencer in the four-part limited series “Madam CJ Walker” about the Black hair care pioneer and mogul by the same name, Netflix announced on August 6.
“Madam CJ Walker” delves into the amazing life of Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam CJ Walker, during the turn-of-the-century and how she overcame an epic business rivalry, tumultuous marriages, and other struggles to become the first Black, self-made female millionaire in the US.
Spencer, who won an Oscar for her role in The Help, is an executive producer for the series with LeBron James and others while also starring as Breedlove.
Netflix announced that Haddish joins the limited series as Lelia, “the smart and feisty daughter of Sarah Breedlove and her late first husband.” Lelia, raised by a single mother, falls in love and marries John Robinson. According to Netflix, Lelia often finds herself defending her “feckless” husband.
Spencer and Haddish are joined by Selma’s Carmen Ejogo, When They See Us’ Blair Underwood, Shameless’ Garrett Morris, and Snowfall’s Kevin Carroll.
Ejogo brings to life Sarah’s former friend turned business rival Addie, a hairstylist and businesswoman who established a successful African American hair care business. The fiercely competitive Addie dismisses Sarah’s ambitions to work as a sales woman for her, “charting a course to become Sarah’s nemesis and rival.”
Ejogo’s character appears to be based on Annie Turnbo Malone — Sarah’s fiercest competitor in real life.
Sarah’s husband, Charles James “CJ” Walker, is portrayed by Underwood. The character is described as “incredibly supportive and encouraging of his wife’s hair product business.” However, CJ worries about his wife’s “increasing stress over the ups and downs of her business.”
Morris joins the cast as Cleophus, a formerly enslaved person and CJ’s father who comes to live with the couple. Cleophus gets along well with his daughter-in-law and helps her with her hair care business.
Meanwhile, Carroll plays Ransom, a Pullman porter with several degrees and patents. Ransom helps Sarah get patents for her hair products and becomes the company’s attorney. He “does his best to pull her back from what he feels is a risky expansion and efforts.”
The series was created by Nicole Jefferson Asher. Eve’s Bayou director Kasi Lemmons will direct and serve as an executive producer of the first episode. Janine Sherman Barrois and Elle Johnson will serve as showrunners, writers, and executive producers. The project is produced by SpringHill Entertainment and Zero Gravity in association with Warner Bros. Television.
The series is inspired by On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam CJ Walker, written by Walker’s great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles. Bundles did not respond to The North Star’s request for an interview.
Walker, who was born in 1867 to two former enslaved people in Louisiana, was orphaned at 7, married at 14, and widowed at 20. She moved to St. Louis to join her three older brothers who owned a barbershop, Bundles wrote for Biography.com.
The entrepreneur initially washed clothes for $1.50 a day until she was motivated by her young daughter to pursue a better life.
“As I bent over the washboard and looked at my arms buried in soapsuds, I said to myself: ‘What are you going to do when you grow old and your back gets stiff? Who is going to take care of your little girl?’” she told The New York Times in a 1917 interview.
She entered into the hair care industry after finding a niche in products for Black women. According to Bundles, after some experimentation and with the help of a Denver pharmacist, Walker developed a curative shampoo and ointment. She then founded the Madam CJ Walker Manufacturing Company in 1906 after marrying CJ Walker, her third husband.
Walker trained thousands of women in the Walker System of Hair Culture and left thousands of dollars to charitable foundations, educational institutions, and political causes. She died on May 25, 1919.
In December 2018, New Voices Foundation announced that Walker’s Irvington, New York mansion, known as Villa Lewaro, would become a hub for women of color entrepreneurs. The foundation said it planned to turn the estate into “a learning institute, or think tank, to foster entrepreneurship for present and future generations.”
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.