If we learned one thing from Hidden Figures(and we learned a whole lot), it’s that Hollywood can and should tell the stories of history’s hidden women. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, starring Oprah Winfrey, HBO shines a light on the eponymous heroine, whose cells were used in groundbreaking medical research and kept from her family.
Winfrey plays Lacks’ daughter Deborah, and the film follows her journey as she pieces together her mother’s past.
Immortal Life is based on the book of the same name by Rebecca Skloot (played in the film by Rose Byrne). Skloot’s 2010 publication used archival photos, documents and Deborah Lacks’ journals to piece together Henrietta’s legacy.
Lacks suffered from cervical cancer, and her biopsied cells were used without her knowledge or consent by George Gey in 1951 (Lacks died later that year). The HeLa cells, as they were labelled, are known as “immortal,” meaning they could continue to divide and multiply without dying out.
In 1955, the HeLa cells were successfully cloned. Lacks’ family did not learn of her importance until 1975.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks premieres on HBO on April 22.