Oprah Brings Incredible Story of Henrietta Lacks To HBO

Here’s What To Expect From Oprah’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Coming To HBO This Weekend

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of the collision between ethics, race and medicine of scientific discovery, faith healing and of the daughter haunted with questions about the mother she never knew.  The film shows that it’s impossible to separate the dark history of experiments on African-Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff that we are made of.  Director, George C. Wolfe and Oprah Winfrey come together to bring recognition to Henrietta Lacks and the story surrounding her, adapting the book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” written by the award-winning best-seller by science journalist Rebecca Skloot.

HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the perfect opportunity to discover who Henrietta Lacks was and what her cells, her life, and her death contributed to science.

The film centers around the oldest daughter of Henrietta Lacks (Deborah), and journalist, Rebecca Skloot, as the pair try to uncover the details surrounding Lacks.  Oprah Winfrey stars as Deborah, with Rose Byrne co-starring as Skloot and Renée Elise Goldsberry, the Tony award winning actress for her role in the Broadway hit Hamilton, takes on the role of Henrietta.


A bit of back story on Henrietta Lacks 
Henrietta Lacks was born Loretta Pleasant, born to Eliza and John Randall Pleasant, on August 1st, 1920. She was poor, she was black, she was unknown, she was used, she was forgotten and she died after losing her battle with cancer!!! This is only a brief description of an African-American woman, one that single handedly changed the face of medicine in this world without her knowledge and without any compensation!!! She wasn’t even thanked for her contributions!

Loretta Pleasant was a poor black tobacco farmer.  She married her first cousin, they had five children, and she died at age 31 without most people ever knowing her name!!! Her name was Loretta but everyone called her Henrietta or Henny. She was born on August 1st, 1920, in rural southern Roanoke Virginia. In 1924 Henrietta’s mother died and she was sent to live with her grandfather. They lived in a log cabin that had been the slave quarters of a white ancestor’s plantation. Henrietta Lacks shared a room with her first cousin David “Day” Lacks. In 1935 they had a son, they named Lawrence. At the time she was 14. In 1939, Henrietta and David had a daughter they would name Elsie. Henrietta and Day married in 1941.

Henrietta Lacks moved to Maryland after being persuaded by another cousin Fred Garret. She was a resident of Turner Station in Dundalk, Maryland. While living there they had 3 more children David Jr., Deborah, and Joseph. Their daughter Elsie was developmentally disabled; they placed her in the Hospital for the Negro Insane. While Henrietta was in Maryland, she went to John Hopkins complaining of abdominal pain and vaginal spotting. The doctor quickly diagnosed her with cervical cancer. The cancer quickly consumed her body despite radiation treatment.

During Henrietta’s treatment for cancer; doctors removed two cervical samples from Lacks without her knowledge.  Doctors isolated what became the first “immortal” human cells. Doctors called these cells “HeLa Cells” named after Henrietta Lacks.  These cells have been used in labs around the world for 65 years even though Lacks succumbed to cancer in 1951. The use of these cells has raised issues about medical samples being taken without consent and how if possible individuals and their families can be compensated for discoveries based on their tissues.

Here are just a few things that became possible due to the HeLa Cells:

  • Vaccinating girls against cancer
  • Showing us how cells stay young (human and animal cloning)
  • Eradicating Polio
  • Mapping the Human Genome
  • Creating the Field of Virology


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will premiere on HBO on Saturday April 22nd at 8p.m. EST.

The movie will replay on the following dates:
Saturday April 22nd at 10:45pm HBO (East)
Sunday April 23rd at 1:45am HBO (West)
Sunday April 23rd at 6pm HBO (East)


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