Netflix has given the green light to Madam C.J. Walker, an eight-episode limited series starring and executive produced by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and executive produced by LeBron James. The announcement was made by VP original programming Cindy Holland during Netflix’s TCA executive session.
Janine Sherman Barrois and Elle Johnson are set as showrunners on the Zero Gravity-produced series about the legendary African American entrepreneur and philanthropist, with Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Talk to Me) on board to direct the first episode. Warner Bros. TV is the studio via SpringHill’s Warner Bros. deal.
Written by Nicole Asher based on the book On Her Own Ground by A’Lelia Bundles, Madam C.J. Walker tells the untold and highly irreverent story of black hair care pioneer and mogul Madam C.J. Walker and how she overcame hostile turn-of-the-century America, epic rivalries, tumultuous marriages and some trifling family to become America’s first black, self-made female millionaire.
Spencer stars as Sarah Breedlove, famously known as Madam C.J. Walker. She executive produces alongside LeBron James and Maverick Carter via SpringHill and Mark Holder, Christine Holder via Zero Gravity as well as Barrois and Johnson. Lemmons executive produces the first episode.
On Her Own Ground, published in 2002 by Scribner, is described as the definitive biography of Walker, written by her great-great-granddaughter, Bundles.
Zero Gravity in 2016 optioned the rights to the book to develop as a limited series with Spencer starring and executive producing, Asher writing and Lemmons directing. The following year, James and his SpringHill came on board and the project was set up at Netflix for development.
Madam C.J. Walker was SpringHill’s first scripted series project and now becomes the company’s first greenlighted scripted series.
The daughter of slaves, Walker was orphaned at seven, married at 14 and widowed at 20. She spent the better part of the next two decades laboring as a washerwoman for $1.50 a week. Then — with the discovery of a revolutionary hair care formula for black women — everything changed. By her death in 1919, Walker managed to overcome astonishing odds, building a storied beauty empire from the ground up, amassing wealth unprecedented among black women and devoting her life to philanthropy and social activism. Along the way, she formed friendships with great early 20th century political figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.
Spencer also stars in and executive produces Apple’s upcoming drama series Are You Sleeping.