Zahra Bentham on the 'inspirational' Netflix series Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker
Zahra Bentham has opened up about the 'inspirational' Netflix series Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.
The actress, who plays Nettie Ransom in the limited series, recently spoke to Her about starring in two big shows in the first months of 2020 (she played Alana in Spinning Out), what drew her to Self Made and why the filming experience was like no other .
"It's such a blessing, you know, having my first show - Spinning Out - come out in January, and hearing such great feedback from the show," she told us.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get a second season, but the fans seem to really have loved it - and I mean, who knows what's for the future? Then having anther series opposite Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, Blair Underwood, just to name a few - I'm feeling really blessed."
The Netflix series, which was released on March 20, stars Octavia Spencer as Madam C.J. Walker, the trailblazing African American haircare entrepreneur who was America’s first female self-made millionaire.
Inspired by the book, On Her Own Ground by Walker’s great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker tells the story of how Walker, against all odds, overcame post-slavery racial and gender biases, personal betrayals, and business rivalries to build a ground-breaking brand that revolutionised black haircare, as she simultaneously fought for social change.
The cast for the limited series includes Octavia Spencer as Madam C.J. Walker, Blair Underwood as her husband C.J. Walker, Tiffany Haddish as her daughter Leila, Carmen Ejogo as Walker’s business rival Addie Monroe, Garrett Morris as Walker’s father-in-law, Kevin Carroll as her longtime lawyer Ransom and Bill Bellamy as Ransom’s cousin Sweetness.
"I play a character called Nettie Ransom, she's the loyal wife of [the lawyer] Ransom. And she's basically part of a club called the Indiana Coloured Women's Club, where a bunch of women take part in supporting one another. Now, Madam C.J. Walker - Sarah Breedlove, let's call her that for now - comes to [Nettie] and is, you know, trying to basically find the funds to start her company," Zahra explained.
"[Nettie] was championing her and being behind her back on everything. But a lot of the women that were in the club kind of turned against her; they didn't think that, you know, that she could be successful given that she was a dark skinned woman. [My character] was kind of the one that that really pushed for her; but in the end we all supported her, she started her business and became super successful."
When asked to pick one word to describe the series, the answer was simple: inspirational.
"A lot of people don't know her story, Madam C.J. Walker - aka: Sarah Breedlove, that's her original name - her story and what she stood for; what she did in the world is incredible," Zahra added, explaining that it was her story itself that she was drawn to the most when she was approached about the project.
"When I had first got it and I started doing my research I was like, why have I not learned this? Like, you know, shame on our school systems for not teaching us who this amazing woman was. It was definitely the story and reading part of the script and you know, understanding all of her trials and tribulations. I was like, man, I want to I want to be a part of it."
"And then of course, the cherry on top was that it would be opposite. You know, Octavia Spencer, so, I wouldn't pass up that opportunity," she added with a laugh.
The Canadian actress told us how Self Made was the "best on-set, on-screen experience" - which she largely attributes to the fact that it was based on someone real.
"It just felt like, maybe because it was about someone real, that it gave it that much more realness on set. And it was kind of like, although she's not alive, we felt this sense of trying to impress and tell a true story about her life and her success;; all the bad parts and all the good parts," she added.
"So, it was like we were all a family. By the end of it, we were all sad to leave and go our separate ways and onto different projects. But I think that given what it's about, that made it that much more real."
- Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker is available to stream on Netflix now.