Oprah Winfrey is to take on a rare acting role in a new film about Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose cells became instrumental in the field of medical research.
According to Deadline, the media mogul will headline The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a film for HBO that she will also executive produce. Winfrey has teamed up with Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball, and George C Wolfe, best known for his stage work, who will write and direct.
Based on the bestselling book of the same name, the movie will tell the story of Lacks, a Black American woman whose cancerous cells were harvested in the 1950s without her family’s authorization.
The film will be told through the eyes of Lacks’ daughter, which is to be played by Winfrey, as she discovers how these cells then led to medical breakthroughs and the creation of the first immortalized human cell line named HeLA.
Lacks’ story has previously been the subject of an award-winning documentary, The Way of All Flesh, directed by Adam Curtis.
About Henrietta Lacks
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. Her story is an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers filled with HeLa cells, from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia, to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. It’s a story inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of.
Oprah Winfrey has been developing her film as a passion project since 2010. The star’s big-screen work in recent years has been in small supporting roles in Selma and The Butler. She is also set to star in a new TV show Greenleaf on her Oprah Winfrey Network.
Despite the many years of the Henrietta Lacks story being shared, let us hope that this movie leads to the Lacks family finally receiving what medical history owes them.