Self Made episode 1 recap – what happened in “The Fight of the Century”

By Daniel Hart
Published: March 20, 2020 (Last updated: February 7, 2024)
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Netflix Series Self Made episode 1 - The Fight of the Century


Self Made episode 1, “The Fight of the Century” has a hint that this Netflix limited series is going to be a worthwhile drama as we are introduced to Sarah Breedlove.

This recap of Netflix Series Self Made episode 1, “The Fight of the Century” contains significant spoilers.

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker is a Netflix limited series based on the true story of African American entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker who built a haircare empire that made her America’s first female self-made millionaire.

Self Made episode 1, “The Fight of the Century” opens up with Sarah Breedlove (played by Octavia Spencer) narrating about the importance of hair. She’s in St Louis in 1908, selling magical hair grower on the streets. She had a life of a washerwoman with little pay and losing hope; her hair has been falling out and her husband Davis came back from prison as a changed man, abusing her and making her feel small.

This really is already a rags to riches story.

But there was hope for Sarah during her demise; Addie Munroe knocks on her door and offers Sarah a new hair product. When Addie sees that Sarah is upset, she offers to help her. With the hair product bringing back her hair, Sarah gets her confidence back and acquires a loyal new husband — CJ.

The turning point in Sarah’s life is when she asks Addie if she can sell her product on her behalf. Addie is cruel and racist about the suggestion, saying the arrangement is laundry for free hair treatments.

Sarah goes out to sell tins anyway to prove Addie wrong. Addie is fuming that Sarah stole the products to sell and says Sarah looks like she’s stepped off a plantation. Episode 1 shows the lack of logic back then and the flagrant racism black people experienced.

Irritated by Addie’s stance, Sarah makes her own product and tests it on her daughter Lelia (played by Tiffany Haddish) but it burns her scalp. Sarah keeps testing and she finally gets it right, and her product starts selling. When Addie realizes what Sarah is doing, she comes over and tells Sarah that she will not be able to compete with her. Later that day, Sarah tells CJ that there are “3 million negroes in America” and that they could really build a business, but they’d have to leave St Louis.

Despite CJ’s reluctance, they leave St Louis for Indianapolis. Sarah gets her business up and running immediately and then decides to open a hair salon — on the first day, she provides a “grand opening”, but it is quiet. An impatient CJ says they made a mistake moving as they are nearly out of money. Sarah gets angry at CJ, but he gives her two weeks to turn this around.

Sarah proceeds to turn it around with good marketing on the street and she starts hiring her own staff — the success is on an incline.

But then Lelia makes her mother aware that Addie Munroe has joined town to compete with her. Sarah and Peggie speak to Addie who is acting innocently about moving to Indianapolis. Sarah notices that Addie’s hair is a little off.

As we near the end, at a church congregation, Sarah makes a significant promotion so she receives a large order for the hair product. As they start producing the product, there’s a large explosion — Lelia’s husband John left the product to cook. All their efforts are spoiled.

At the end of Self Made episode 1, “The Fight of the Century”, Addie comes over to offer her apologies, but she is really gloating. Addie states she wants to offer Sarah’s customers alternative products in light of what’s happened. In usual Octavia Spencer fashion, Sarah tells Addie tp find a new whipping post because she is going to build a factory — she also asks Addie to refer to her as Madam CJ Walker.

What a wonderful opening episode.

Additional Notes

  • When Sarah is upset at her heated argument with Addie, her husband CJ comforts her.
  • Sarah’s daughter Lelia got married to John. Sarah was not amused. John is thinking of opening a Juke Joint.
  • Sarah’s father tells CJ that he needs to be a man and make his own money.
  • The black community celebrates because Jack Johnson won the fighting, but it resulted in black people getting murdered on the streets.

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