Friday, March 20, 2020

REVIEW: 'Self Made' - Sarah Clashes with Addie While Trying to Build a Hair Care Business in 'The Fight of the Century'

Netflix's Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker - Episode 1.01 "The Fight of the Century"

Aspiring to be more than a washerwoman, Sarah grows determined to sell Addie's hair product. But when she's cruelly rebuffed, the gloves come off.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Netflix's Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.

"The Fight of the Century" was written by Nicole Jefferson Asher and directed by Kasi Lemmons

Sarah Breedlove communicates so effectively with black women because of their shared experiences with hair. She understands just how life-changing the effort put into one's appearance can be. It certainly shouldn't be the only thing that provides value and a sense of purpose to one's life. However, Sarah was broken down when her hair was spotty and in disarray. Addie brought new life into her because she revitalized her scalp and grew this luscious head of hair. It's a complete transformation for Sarah. She sees the potential benefit that can come from giving that same experience to so many women at the start of the 20th century. It's a way to build up a sense of worth in a time when the world wants to beat down women of color for trying to expand beyond certain roles. Addie views it as Sarah stepping out of her place though. Her business is making people believe that they too can have the type of hair she was lucky to have through the genetics of her mixed background. With Sarah, she wants to uplift and encourage dark skin women to prove that they too can be capable of anything when they are presented the right way. That discrimination is real and depressing. Sarah doesn't want it to knock her down. She is done doing laundry for others. She wants to build a business she is personally excited about. Addie just sees that as a move to challenge her standing in this industry. It doesn't matter that Sarah and her family move away to Indianapolis. Addie follows shortly thereafter to prove that she is the superior businesswomen. She deserves greatness in the world more than Sarah because of her lighter skin tone. The adversarial relationship between Sarah and Addie is the point of their dynamic. There isn't anything subtextual about it at all. It's already on the surface. As such, the show embracing those highly stylized moments of Sarah and Addie being in a modern-day boxing match only further amplifies that overall understanding of what's going on. It probably makes it too blatant and obvious. There isn't a whole lot of depth to the proceedings. Things happen at a brisk and rewarding pace. It's easy to see Sarah as a natural saleswoman. She has the smarts to get up on her mound and preach as if her life depends on it. It actually does in some instances. She has to sell her product in order to provide for her family. This is a family business where everything is reliant on her doing well. That may not be a smart business strategy though. Sarah tries to convince her daughter Lelia to be independent as well. She should have her own money instead of being beholden to her new husband. Meanwhile, Sarah's own husband, CJ, is more than happy to provide her with all the support she needs right now. That just makes it devastating when that fire breaks out in the end because of a careless mistake. Everything Sarah has built is potentially lost in that moment because the people around her don't urgently understand the desire for this business as much as she does. Sure, her family puts in the work to make the product and keep the salon running. However, she is the one with the vision. She knows that she can't show weakness because Addie is already starting to poach her clients. She has to remain firm and strong. She needs to be on an upward trajectory. This loss could ruin everything for her. She doesn't want to be defeated in that way. It would be a lackluster way for Addie to emerge victorious in this fight. Octavia Spencer sells the intensity and sincerity of it all too. She is the one carrying the load of this story while everyone else has a certain role to play. It makes the narrative very didactic in explaining the events as they happened in the life and creation of Madam C.J. Walker. It's educational and eye-opening. It's clear to see how she charts her rise to success. That fire is within her to succeed. It just may not be the most entertaining or compelling narrative ripe with the drama to make the audience as engaged to see that outcome take place. That's slightly disappointing and perhaps too harsh a critique at the moment as well. The narrative could absolutely deepen and grow more complex moving forward. It just has to be increasingly bold with its presentation of this world and just how notable it is for Sarah to make these decisions and become the success story that she is while not shying away from her flaws either.