It’s around 2:30am and I couldn’t let another night go by without getting my thoughts and feelings out about what we have all been on social media talking about in the black hair community. The Netflix movie/series that was released over the weekend. Self Made, “inspired by” the life of Madam CJ Walker.
I have known about Annie Malone since the late 1990s. Back then learning about her and Madam CJ Walker (Sarah Breedlove) went hand in hand. And that was before I knew my life path would lead me to be a loctician/natural hair care professional. So I don’t understand how in the age of google and in the same year Hair Love won an Oscar, we could end up with such a unnecessarily negative fictionalized version of the legacy between Annie Malone & Madam CJ Walker. Ok, obviously I understand how we got here. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m disappointed and heartbroken that it was allowed to happen. Not disappointed in the cast and crew (even though some of them blatantly ignored inquiries about how Annie Malone would be portrayed before the movie/series was released) because I know folks gotta eat, so get money. But I’m disappointed in those who knowingly put the lies in and then hid behind “inspired by” so they wouldn’t have to be or feel held accountable for what they did.
When I first heard that the movie/series was being made, my first thought was “I wonder if they will include Annie Malone in the story?”. So when someone told me the trailer was out I was excited to see it! When I saw the trailer for the series I was in my feelings and questioned whether or not I still wanted to see it. Because I was like there’s no way that the woman in the clip doing Mrs Walkers hair is supposed to be Annie Malone. NO WAY! When something is inspired by or based on the life of a person we know that some things won’t be right and exact. But we expect most of the truth to be in there with a little flare added. What we got though….
Below are a few pictures of Annie Turnbo Malone
She was the first black female millionaire. A fact that is continually disregarded and overlooked because Madam CJ Walker was listed as in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first even though she wasn’t. This fact is important as we go on about the movie/series.
Below is a picture of the actress Carmen Ejogo dressed as “Addie Monroe” in the series.
Now in the words of Ed Lover, C’mon Son! First of all the casting department knew full well that this looked NOTHING like Annie Malone. And I understand that because they changed her name in the movie to Addie Monroe, they felt no need to get someone who actually looked close to Mrs Malone. This was clearly done on purpose because they needed to cast someone to fit the bold face lie of a narrative that there was some sort of light skinned vs dark skinned beef between Annie Malone and Madam CJ Walker. Again I don’t fault Carmen Ejogo for this because she was doing the job she was hired to do. It was wildly irresponsible to even have this as part of the history between the two women, even in a fictionalized version, when it was never brought up before this movie in real life. It was never part of the narrative because in real life the two women from all pics available were close to the same complexion, even in black and white photos. So that kind of argument wouldn’t have made any sense. They weren’t enemies at all even though that is what was portrayed in the movie/series. So why in 2019/2020 would you feel the need to bring up this same tired trope when it didn’t need to be in there at all ?
Ok, on to lie number 2. As I stated earlier Annie Malone was the factual first black female millionaire. In the movie/series they tried to portray Mrs Malone as jealous of Mrs Walker. But this simply wasn’t true. And anyone who takes the time to read all of the information available will see that. In spite of what the movie tried to portray, Walker was a student of Mrs Malone and DID sell products as an agent for Poro product line. It’s listed in the Wiki of Walker and it’s documented in books that have no problem telling the truth. Now as of today someone snuck that lie from the movie into the wiki of Annie Malone and I’m hoping the ancestors wake them up out of their sleep to fix it. I took a screen shot of each.
Here is a section from the wiki of MCJW
Here is a section from the wiki of AMTM with the lie in it.
By the time Mrs Malone and Mrs Walker came into contact with each other, Mrs Malone was already successful with her Poro product line. Everything Mrs Walker knew, she learned from working under Mrs Malone. Some of the things they tried to insinuate Mrs Walker coming up with in the movie/series were actually facts from the life of Mrs Malone. Yet in the movie/series they tried to make it seem as if Mrs Malone wasn’t as successful as she truly was and that she was jealous of Mrs Walker’s success. Which simply IS NOT TRUE. At no point was Mrs Malone jealous that Mrs Walker went on to do her own thing. The disagreement that the 2 women had wasn’t over skin tone. It was over products. And the fact that Mrs Walker “improved” the formula she stole from Mrs Malone is another lie. Here is why. If you take the time to do research and not just believe this movie/series, you will learn that the disagreement they had was over how to straighten the natural hair of black women. Mrs Malone wanted to only use natural ingredients along with a hot comb to straighten the hair. Mrs Walker wanted to add lye to the mix, which was glossed over in the movie/series. This is not a slight to Mrs Walker. But at no point in the history of black hair has adding lye to a product improved it or made it healthy for our hair or our bodies. I’m sure at the time this was an idea that she thought was good. So I’m not mad at her for that. But I am mad at the movie/series for continually trying to drive the point home that she “improved” Mrs Malone’s formula after she stole it and left the Poro company.
I have seen a few hair care professionals who I admire doing Instagram live talks about this project and pretending they really didn’t know much about Mrs Malone and acting like information about her was impossible to find. It was obvious that they weren’t being completely honest and without being blatant about it had chosen a side in this issue. This to me was not necessary and very disappointing. Every single black woman in business, especially black hair care professionals/product owners, stand on the shoulders of Annie Malone. Every single one. Including Mrs Walker.
A so called issue that has been brought up during these discussions online, is the that the reason we know more about Mrs Walker and not Mrs Malone is because Mrs Walker had a daughter who adopted a child and the decedents of that child have been keeping the legacy of Mrs Walker alive. While Mrs Malone did not have children and therefore had no one to tell her story. Mrs Malone not having anyone to tell her story isn’t true. She has a number of nieces and nephews who are alive and well who have been keeping her story alive. And there are books available about the life of Mrs Malone available on Amazon. One is, A Friend to All Mankind”:Mrs. Annie Turnbo Malone and Poro College. And the other is, Story of Pride, Power and Uplift: Annie T. Malone. The Annie Malone Historical Society are working diligently to keep Annie’s legacy alive and to educate those who don’t know of her on their website www.anniemalonehistoricalsociety.org. You can also learn more about Mrs Malone by visiting https://freemaninstitute.com/poro.htm. Both sites have books available that you can purchase on the life and legacy of Annie Malone. I have also seen several people from St Louis in comment sections saying that they learn about Annie Malone from birth there and that she will forever been celebrated and acknowledged for her true legacy. You can click HERE to see a link to a bio piece about her on a website which celebrates famous Missourians.
Thanks to a friend of mine I was shown a Facebook post by one of Mrs Malone’s nieces in regards to the movie/series. Here it is;
Below is a post from another one of Mrs Malone’s nieces;
This movie/series could have celebrated both women and been a monumental piece of art that was shown in homes and classrooms for years to come. But the blatant disrespect that was shown to Mrs Malone makes this something that I consider a disservice to both women and not an introduction that I would want to give anyone, young or old, to either of them. Mrs Malone and Mrs Walker could have both been lifted up and their accomplishments acknowledged. It wasn’t necessary to turn Mrs Malone into a Disney Villain in order to justify admitting that her formula was stolen. It would have been more respectful to leave her out of the project all to together versus what was done. My hope is that in the future Mrs Malone is given the movie or series she deserves and that if Mrs Walker is included, it will be done in a more graceful way than that which was given to Mrs Malone in Self Made.
Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone. I speak your name!!
Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below 🙂
Nyesha Samuel, Publisher/Writer for healthylocsblog.com