Rose Byrne has joined the cast of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, on which cameras will soon be rolling. The HBO Films project aims to tell the story of the late Henrietta Lacks, whose cervical cancer cells were harvested without permission in 1951, and were used to create numerous medical breakthroughs – including the first immortal line of cells.
Now commonly referred to as the HeLa line, the immortal line of cells was first created by George Otto Gey – using Henrietta Lacks’ cells. This cell line comprises cells that would not normally multiply indefinitely, but do so due to mutation. The story of Henrietta Lacks and her role in vital medical advancements was relatively little known until Rebecca Skloot finally published her book, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, after researching and writing the book for ten years.
Written and directed by George C Wolfe (Lackawanna Blues), the film is produced by Oprah Winfrey – who also stars as Deborah Lacks. As the daughter of the late Henrietta, Deborah was instrumental in the writing of Skloot’s book, and this film tells the tale of the way in which the book was produced, while Deborah Lacks was trying to uncover information about her mother who died while she was very young. Rose Byrne will play the author, Rebecca Skloot, and will show the way in which she worked closely with Deborah to tell her mother’s tale.
It’s an important story, as it not only charts the influence Henrietta Lacks has had on modern medicine, but also the underlying implications of race issues in the United States of America in 1951. Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman, who struggled to find healthcare, due to racial segregation in hospitals. When she was able to access the medical diagnosis and treatment she needed, her cells were harvested without her knowledge or permission – highlighting the lack of autonomy and physical sovereignty enjoyed by African American communities at the time. While it is vital to explore the historical story of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks in film, the relevance of these themes in modern society cannot be denied.