We combed through a few members of Self Made’s cast to separate fact from fiction.
Madam C.J. Walker
Played by Octavia Spencer (The Help, The Shape of Water)
Based on: The matriarch herself, whose birth name was Sarah Breedlove. Born on a cotton plantation in Louisiana, Walker began losing hair at a young age and ultimately developed a line of African-American hair-care products.
Played by Carmen Ejogo (True Detective, Selma)
Based on: Annie Malone, a rival of Walker’s who ran a competing hair-care products company in St. Louis. In real life, Malone was no villain. She founded the cosmetology school Poro College and gave Walker her start.
Played by Blair Underwood (L.A. Law, When They See Us)
Based on: Walker’s third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, who sold newspaper advertising in St. Louis. Although he was never as ambitious as his wife, C.J. helped develop some of the early marketing plans for her business.
Played by Tiffany Haddish (The Last O.G., Girls Trip)
Based on: Walker’s daughter A’Lelia, who became president of her mom’s company. A Harlem Renaissance socialite, A’Lelia frequently entertained African-American intellectuals such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and W.E.B. Du Bois.
Played by Bill Bellamy (Def Comedy Jam)
Based on: No one in particular. Self Made’s producers say creating this numbers runner (an early version of the lottery) allowed them to introduce themes (such as gambling in the black community) that otherwise would have been hard to address.
Played by Kevin Carroll (The Leftovers)
Based on: Freeman Ransom, Walker’s attorney. A close confidant of Walker’s over several decades, Ransom—a rigidly moral man, unlike the character on the show—took over operations in Indianapolis in 1916 when the boss moved to New York.
Self Made premieres March 20 on Netflix.
All images courtesy Netflix.