Oprah Winfrey teamed up with “True Blood’s” Alan Ball to executive produce the adaptation of journalist Rebecca Skloot’s bestselling nonfiction book of the same name. The novel tracks the titular Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman who is the progenitor of the HeLa immortal cell line. Even though she died in 1951, the cells from her cervical cancer were harvested without her knowledge or consent and have been used and replicated since then in biomedical research.
Lacks (“Hamilton” alum Renee Elise Goldsberry) had just given birth to her fifth child when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Winfrey plays Deborah Lacks, the second-to-last child born to Henrietta, who was only 2-years-old when her mother died and, as an adult, learned about the role that her mother’s cells have played in science.
With the help of Skloot (Rose Byrne), Deborah tracks down information about the unauthorized harvesting of Henrietta’s cells, known as HeLa cells, which have the unique quality of not dying or reaching senescence outside of the body. Because of this, scientists have been able to use the cells without interruption in the creation of vaccines, gene mapping, disease research and to test the effects of toxic substances and radiation on humans.
Courtney B. Vance also stars in the film as Sir Lord Kennan Coefield, and Reed Birney as Dr. George Gey, the researcher who harvested Henrietta’s cells.
Watch the trailer below:
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” will premiere Saturday, April 22 at 8 p.m. on HBO.