As the Founding President of the Annie Malone Historical Society, I have spent a lot of time over the last several days monitoring responses to the recently released Netflix miniseries, “Self-Made.” I have read countless e-mails and on-line articles, fielded phone calls, received text messages, Facebook and blog posts, and discovered more about twitter and Instagram than I ever knew. Two things are clear. People have strong opinions and feelings about what and how information was presented in this miniseries. No matter if the people lived in the St. Louis community or out of it, the miniseries got a lot of people talking.
I say thank you to all who visited the Annie Malone Historical Society website and/or Facebook page seeking additional information. I appreciate your comments and questions too. You encourage my hopes that at least some people will investigate truth for themselves. The truth, in our history, is the matter here.
Per currently living relatives, three census records and others who knew her, Annie Malone was not Mulatto. Personal interviews, reviewing handwritten notes and, extensive reading have led me to believe she was a thoughtful, devoutly Christian woman in possession of an endearingly calm but matter-of-fact way of addressing people and issues.
The miniseries portrayal of Madam C. J. Walker and the characterized figure of Annie Malone (Addie Monroe) greatly discredited both women. Even with consideration as a work of historical fiction, the mark was missed here! The opportunity, to shine light and reveal historical truth, was lost. The miniseries severely detracted from the very significant contributions each of these African American women made to changing the social and economic paradigms of the day. Stories that represent African American history, culture or our experiences are hard enough to take – with no embellishments. What then was the need to manufacture distortions of the facts? To what end I pray we ask ourselves and seek the answers.
According to google, as many as 100 million viewers may have started watching the series. They estimate about 50 million viewers may have discontinued their viewership for a variety of reasons. That left 50 million opportunities to share with audiences the passion each of these notable icons had for improving the lives of women – at a time when no women of any status or hue could vote in the United States! Their philanthropic commitment could be described as “freakish”. They each funded multiple scholarships at several colleges in the South. They each had an international presence in other parts of the world, financially supported community causes and help individuals across our country.
Despite being orphaned at an early age, Annie Malone built her fourth corporate expansion (at a cost over $750,000) and formed an international empire – training 75,000 sales agents over her lifetime. Malone provided funding and leadership to the St. Louis Colored Orphan’s Home, now named in her honor- the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center. She regularly commuted from Chicago, Illinois – the location of her fifth business expansion which included four mansions in a row along South Park Boulevard to continue her service to the home and Board of Directors. Today, an annual parade, also named in her honor, takes place representing the oldest (begun in 1910) and second largest African American parade celebration in the country.
Focusing viewers of the miniseries, “Self-Made” on the problems between Walker and Malone as competitors, with so many twists of the truth, does not equal a pass when it comes to our history – even in the name of entertainment. The history of African Americans, our stories of heroes and heroines, their trials, triumphs and success are far too often andtoo long buried. It is difficult to find words to adequately describe “missed” opportunity. The value in a “teachable moment” past is almost immeasurable! The Netflix miniseries, “Self-Made” surpassed the use of “creative license”, moved past “sensationalism”, and dove deep into the pool of malicious distortion. It failed to share that each of these brave African American women navigated tumultuous times and deserved to be honored and respected for their contributions. The sting of real life touched each of them. The racism, sexism, discrimination, colorism, race riots, housing covenants and lynching of the times were surely large enough barriers to both their success. Still, each of them set high bars and managed to spark new economic dynamics for African Americans around the world. Simply put, the miniseries was a missed opportunity to show the world more images of hidden figures in our history. It failed to stretch our curiosity and helped us ask could there be other icons and giants of history we don’t know about?
The most shocking responses I read to the miniseries portrayals were from people saying they were no longer willing to support the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center or the Annual Parade! They expressed great discontent for the fictionalized charter played by Addie Monroe. Their very negative, assumptions took a very dangerous leap and held real legends accountable for misdeeds undone. While the consequence of having misguided viewers develop distorted viewpoints may be unintended, they are no less real to the people who wrote and shared their disdain for Annie Malone’s legacy. I felt an immediate sadness for the real damage that could be done here and hope cooler heads will prevail.
The view from my seat lets me see this information age requires a lot of all of us. As we must take more responsibility for what we know about our history, so too must the entertainment industry take greater care in how they present it.
I welcome conversation on these views and can be contacted using the information below.
Linda M. Nance
The Annie Malone Historical Society