Since Octavia Spencer burst into the mainstream of entertainment in 2011, it feels like we’ve been waiting for her to land a role where she gets to shine as a leading lady and take a project to another level. Well, after almost a decade of waiting, we finally got what we’ve been wanting with her stand-out performance in the Netflix limited series, “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.” Her performance is terrific and will hopefully stay on the minds of Emmy voters for the next several months.
Spencer portrays Sarah Breedlove, a washer in an abusive marriage who begins losing her hair. After a businesswoman, Addie (Carmen Ejogo), helps her regrow her hair with her own product, Sarah wants to thank Addie by becoming a saleswoman for her. She is rejected because she doesn’t fit the image that Addie wants to promote. Determined to help other black women with their hair, Sarah develops her own product and builds her own empire, eventually taking the name of her new husband, C.J. Walker (Blair Underwood), and eventually becoming the first self-made female millionaire.
Right from the beginning of the first episode, Spencer brings to life Walker’s conviction and personal touch that make her an excellent salesperson. But even when Walker is showing her most shrewd business instincts, Spencer always manages to bring her back down and realize how what she is doing is affecting others. We especially get to see this towards the end in the wonderful interactions she has with her daughter Lelia (Tiffany Haddish). But Spencer also beautifully demonstrates Walker’s strength. At several points during the series, Walker has brutal setbacks, both in her business and her personal life. Spencer gives Walker an appropriate amount of anger and sadness but then shows how Walker channeled all of that into making her business bigger and more prosperous.
This past decade has been quite a decade for Spencer. After having done various film and TV roles for 15 years, she gave her breakthrough performance as the unruffled and fiery maid Minnie Jackson in “The Help.” The role brought her plaudits from both audiences and critics culminating in winning the 2011 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She’s scored two subsequent Oscar nominations for Supporting Actress (“Hidden Figures” in 2016 and “The Shape of Water” in 2017) making her the first black actress to be nominated for an Oscar after already winning one.
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