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Henrietta Lacks is one of those people who greatly impacted your life and you don’t even know her name. What’s even more fascinating about her story is that she didn’t even know how much good she would do in the world after she died. In 1951, after having five children, Lacks discovered that she had cervical cancer, from which she would pass away at a tragically young age of 31. Without the knowledge of Henrietta or her family, tissue from the tumor that killed her was taken from her body and essentially made immortal at Johns Hopkins. For decades, scientists there had been trying to grow a cell line on which the medical industry could experiment in ways that they couldn’t do with living people. Henrietta Lacks was the key that unlocked the door, leading to decades of medical advancements, including developments in the treatment of polio, Parkinsons, influenza, leukemia, and many more. With the cells named HeLa, most of the world had no idea that it was the biological property of a Virginia mother who changed the world.
George C. Wolfe’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” premiering on HBO tomorrow night, tells Henrietta’s (Renee Elise Goldsberry) story. Sorta. It also tells the story of journalist Rebecca Skloot (Rose Byrne), the woman who spent a decade researching this strange story and wrote the bestselling book on which this film is based. Sorta. It also tells the story of Deborah Lacks (Oprah Winfrey), Henrietta’s daughter, who has become somewhat obsessed and damaged by the saga of her mother and how little she feels like she knows about a woman who has somehow become the property of the world. Any one of these stories could have worked on their own, but the awkward blending of all three doesn’t work. Rebecca becomes little more than an unnecessary sounding board for Deborah, who could have anchored the story on her own. And, worst of all, it feels like we get to know the woman writing this tale more than the person it’s about. At one point, someone says “This story is crazy enough for three books!” Which makes it both too much and not quite enough for one film.
An African-American woman becomes an unwitting pioneer for medical breakthroughs when her cells are used to create the first immortal human cell line in the early 1950s.
Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Oprah Winfrey will star in HBO Films‘ The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, based on Rebecca Skloot’s, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” does its most good by bringing the full name back to HeLa. With such a unique, decades-long story, It is based on the book of the same name by Rebecca Skloot and documents the story of Henrietta Lacks, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in the 1950s, and whose cancer cells (later known asHeLa) would change the course of cancer treatment. The film premiered on HBO on April 22, 2017.