A stunning new HBO film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will premiere on Foxtel’s showcase later this month.
Starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne and based on Rebecca Skloot’s critically acclaimed 2010 bestseller of the same name, this fascinating drama tells the true story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cells were harvested without her knowledge to create the first immortal human cell line, known as “HeLa” cells.
Told primarily through the eyes of Lack’s daughter, Deborah (Oprah Winfrey) and journalist Rebecca Skloot (Rose Byrne), the film chronicles Deborah’s search to learn about the mother she never knew, and to understand how the unauthorised harvesting of Lacks’ cancerous cells in 1951 lead to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, from cancer to polio to radiation to AIDS, changing countless lives and the face of medicine forever.
Henrietta gave birth to five children before learning she was dying of cervical cancer, and was treated at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. During testing,cells from her malignant tumour were removed without her knowledge, or that of her family. Up until this time, scientists were unable to grow human cells inthe culture of a Petri dish, but Dr. George Otto Gey at Hopkins was amazed to find that Henrietta’s cells multiplied at a feverish pace.
Although they accelerated the deadly cancer inside Henrietta’s body, the cells, almost miraculously, continued to grow and multiply in lab conditions. Since Henrietta’s death in 1951, the cells have been used in tens of thousands of research studies – from the development of drugs for polio, leukaemia, influenzaand Parkinson’s disease, to cloning, gene mapping, and their inclusion in the first space missions to study the impact of zero gravity on human cells. It was more than 20 years before her family learned that she was responsible for HeLa.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack is a story of medical arrogance and triumph, race, poverty and deep friendship between the unlikeliest of people. The film is collaboration between the award-winning HBO Films team, Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films and Alan Ball’s Your Face Goes Here Entertainment.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will premiere on Foxtel’s showcase Sunday, May 14 at 8.30pm AEST,