Adapted from Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 book of the same name, the biopic tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, the black woman whose cells were kept without her permission as she was dying from cancer in 1951. Her cells led to the discovery of the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, and gene mapping.
Oprah Winfrey portrays the role of Deborah, Lacks’ daughter, who teams up with a journalist to learn about the mother she never knew. Henrietta Lacks will be played by Hamilton’s Renée Elise Goldsberry.
“The book connects the epic with the intimate, and that’s the movie’s ambition,” says George C. Wolfe, director of the biopic. “This woman’s cells helped heal the planet, yet her children were suffering. They didn’t know their mother’s story, even though they were living in the shadows of Johns Hopkins. I found that dichotomy incredibly moving.”
Henrietta Lacks’ children still continue to fight for her rights to this very day.
Lacks’ son, Lawrence Lacks told the Baltimore Sun, “My mother would be so proud that her cells saved lives,” he stated. “She’d be horrified that Johns Hopkins profited while her family to this day has no rights.”
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks premieres April 22 at 8 p.m. on HBO.
Oprah appeared on the Steve Harvey Morning Show to share the story and promote the film. Hear the exclusive interview here.