She was born Sarah Breedlove on a plantation in Delta, Louisiana, where her parents had been slaves. At 14, she married to get a home of her own, to get away from a cruel brother-in-law with whom she was living. At 17, she had her only child, A'Lelia, who I'm named after.
For some people, success is a zero sum game. They think that if they push other people out of the way, fewer people can compete with them. That's one way of seeing the world. It's dog eat dog. It's, sadly, always going to be there.
I began to discover that, in addition to her stunning achievements, there were flaws as there would be in any person's life. I wanted to tell Madam's story in an honest, frank way.
Madam Walker was a woman who transformed herself in a very American, rags-to-riches way.
I think Michelle Obama ought to wear her hair exactly the way she wants to wear her hair. I am not looking for Michelle Obama to cut her hair off like I have mine, very short. I'm not looking for her to do twists. I'm looking for her to wear what's comfortable for her.
One of the key things for me about Madame Walker's life is that she really does represent this first generation out of slavery when black people were reinventing themselves, and as a woman who was the first child in her family born free, she was trying to figure out a way, and she moved from Delta, Louisiana.
Madam Walker, as part of the first generation out of slavery, really was inventing the way that she operated in the world.
I think a lot of times, the historical piece is often a way to comment on the present.
To her credit, Madam Walker discerned that black women wanted to conform to white Victorian models of beauty. She was aware of the double- sidedness of her products - helping black women appear more European in look, with straight hair - but she always maintained that she was simply selling products that promoted hair growth.
As much as any woman of the twentieth century, Madam Walker paved the way for the profound social changes that altered women's place in American society.