I first read about the story of Henrietta Lacks almost 7 years ago in Rebecca Skloot’s fantastic debut The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I personally recommended it to many people and when I found out HBO films was producing an original film version with the help of Oprah Winfrey, I knew they would do an amazing job. If you have not read the book, please do so, however HBO has really done a great job adapting the source material and it is very enjoyable even without having read the book.
To dumb down the story into 2 sentences, Doctors harvested Mrs. Lacks cells without her knowledge while she was being treated in 1951 for cervical cancer. Those cells did not die but multiplied, and went on to create a medical revolution in research and fueled the creation of vaccines and treatments for various diseases. The story revolves around the family finding out many years later and looking for answers as to why others were able to benefit from their mother without consent. The story gets into racial and class issues of the time, where this seemed to be common place to take advantage of poor minorities. Ethics were pretty much non-existent at this time and experimenting on black patients was common, like the story of the Tuskegee experiments with syphilis.
The film adaptation starred Rose Byrne (X-Men:First Class) in the role of the author Rebecca Skloot and Oprah Winfrey as the daughter of Henrietta Lacks who is searching for answers. Oprah gives a great performance as a mentally and health damaged woman who is desperate to find out more about her family. Watching her performance makes you wonder why she doesn’t take on more film roles. The film really was a great adaptation of an interesting story. Similar to the story of Hidden Figures, I wish more people knew the true story behind the HeLa cells and the woman who possibly saved millions of lives. If you have HBO and have an hour and a half to give, you won’t regret finding out about Henrietta Lacks.