Her name may not be widely known outside of medical research circles, but Henrietta Lacks -- and the tumorous cell samples she left behind when she died of cervical cancer in 1951 -- have been crucial to numerous experiments and medical breakthroughs. Although we have Henrietta's HeLa line cells to thank for everything from Jonas Salk's polio vaccine to hypoallergenic cosmetics, she's about to be immortalized again in an HBO original biopic.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is based on Rebecca Skloot's nonfiction bestseller of the same name and stars Oprah Winfrey as Henrietta's daughter Deborah and Rose Byrne as Skloot herself. According to HBO's press materials, the film tells Henrietta's story from Deborah's perspective as she and Skloot "learn about the mother she never knew and 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." Beyond just medicine, Henrietta's story is one of an African American woman who unknowingly saved countless lives after her death and changed how we discuss the consent and privacy issues involved in using someone's genetic material without their knowledge.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will debut on HBO Saturday, April 22nd at 8 pm ET/PT.