The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Continues on HBO

Oprah’s passion project finally comes to fruition.

immortal life of henrietta lacks oprah winfrey hbo film

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard the name, Henrietta Lacks. If so, was it before or after news broke that HBO would greenlight a film project?

The name Henrietta Lacks in and of itself should be synonymous with the concept of cancer breakthrough. In the 1950s, Lacks was stricken with cervical cancer, a destructive disease which would take her life 8 months later, and passed in October 1951. Her cancerous cells were harvested her from her without permission, and the result of which was the celebrity strand of cells given the name HeLa by researchers.

HeLa reproduced on their own in a lab while Lacks was treated in the “colored” ward of a hospital. HeLa are the first cells of their kind within medical science to behave that way (solo reproductively), making them instantly famous at that time. Lacks’ astonishing story has been written about plenty a time, and now a movie of the same name will be headed to HBO this year.

Many medical discoveries and secrets have been made from HeLa, and they’ve been the basis of over 60,000 studies and launched countless careers. Lacks’ cells, which can be purchased by 800 number, ahem, have been sent all over the world and beyond—oh yes, they’ve even been sent to OUTER SPACE! Rebecca Skloot was a graduate student when she began her research on the woman who produced the groundbreaking HeLa cells. It took a while for her to navigate the complicated web of ethics, race, poverty, and science within the medical field to gain this understanding on Lacks’ story.

Not to mention, the family didn’t find out for 25 years that it was their mother’s cells were responsible for breaking ground in the medical field. In fact, the medical world was confusing and didn’t seem fair. As a result, it took Skloot a long time to gain their trust as well. The outcome was the non-fiction marvel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

The perspective Skloot demonstrates in her account is one that alternates between the eyes of the researchers and that of the family. She utilizes Lacks’ daughter, Deborah Lacks—only an infant when her mother passed away—as a catalyst to explain the incredible report. If done incorrectly, many aspects of science might go over the heads of the everyday reader.

Oprah Winfrey‘s Harpo Films has locked the film for production since 2010 and hopes her newest rework chronicling Lacks’ life will help bring some peace to her family. Winfrey will star in the film and serve as the executive producer of the film; Skloot will act as co-producer and seasoned playwright George C. Wolfe will direct the remarkable tale.

From the cast alone, it seems the film will be captivating. Renee Elise Goldsberry (in the titular role) no doubt has lifelong fans due to her run in the Broadway smash Hamilton. In addition to this, the actress has many other broadway credits under her belt including, The Good Wife and One Life to Live. Rose Byrne, of Bridesmaids fame, will portray Skloot. Courtney B. Vance (American Crime) also appears alongside Leslie Uggams, who we last witnessed as Blind Al in Deadpool.

Personally, I’m excited to learn more about Henrietta Lacks and see the whole thing unfold. Medical ethics remains a complicated gray area in terms of harvesting tissue and cells. But nevertheless, this is an exceptional story that needs to be told and it thrills me to know how many people HBO will reach by producing it.

How much did you already know about Henrietta Lacks?

Will you be watching The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks when it premieres tomorrow, April 22 on HBO?

Written by Errica Bailey

A city girl from the midwest still not sure where to call home, Errica hopes to one day be able to focus her creative energy at a level akin to Carrie Matheson - off her meds of course.