Following her roles as Gloria Gaines in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Annie Lee Cooper in Selma, Oprah Winfrey is returning to film…well, film-made-for-TV. HBO announced today that the cultural icon will star in the network’s upcoming project The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as Lack’s daughter, Deborah.
Now, just who exactly is Henrietta Lacks? The subject of a best-selling book by the same name as the HBO film, Henrietta was an African-American woman who, in 1951, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was treated at Johns Hopkins University where cells from her cervix were extracted without the patient’s knowledge. These cells would go on to be used in various experiments over the next 60 years after a doctor discovered Henrietta’s cells could be made to grow on their own indefinitely. Medical writer Rebecca Skloot traced the tale as well as the family’s discovery of these cells in her book, and HBO will dramatize the events.
What I love about Oprah’s acting choices is her dedication to bringing more diverse stories to the screen. Speaking from a Paley Fest event celebrating African-American achievements in television, she said (via THR):
We’ve got to keep telling our stories because our experiences are so broad and rich and multifaceted there isn’t just one way to be black or ish. The more stories we share the more reflective we can be of the whole diverse African-American community.
The screenplay for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was written by the film’s director George C. Wolfe, and Oprah will executive produce along with Alan Ball, Peter Macdissi, Carla Gardini, and Lydia Dean Pilcher. Elsewhere, Henrietta’s real sons David Lacks, Jr. and Zakariyya Rahman and granddaughter Jeri Lacks will act as consultants.
Here’s the official synopsis:
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS tells the true story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cells were used to create the first immortal human cell line. Told through the eyes of her daughter, Deborah Lacks (Winfrey), the film chronicles her search to learn about the mother she never knew and to understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Lacks’ cancerous cells in 1951 led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, changing countless lives and the face of medicine forever. It’s a story of medical arrogance and triumph, race, poverty and deep friendship between the unlikeliest of people.