Friday, October 6, 2017

Film on Friday #56 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I kept hearing again and again from fellow booklovers that I needed to read Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - a #1 New York Times Bestseller. I never did get around to it, but jumped at the chance to watch the HBO film of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Henrietta Lacks is at the heart of a myriad of medical breakthroughs and developments. Polio, AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis and so many more. How you ask? Her cells - cells that didn't die. Cells taken during a cancer biopsy - cancer that killed Lacks in 1951. But taken without and used without her permission. Her family received little information, respect and no compensation. Initially these cells were shared freely amongst medical communities. But later they were charged for, becoming the basis of the biomedical industry. The cells were known as HeLa, but never publicly attributed to Henrietta Lacks.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is told after the death of Henrietta as her daughter Deborah (played by Oprah Winfrey) searches for answers about what happened to her mother, as well as a sense of who that mother really was. That was also the case for Rebecca Skloot (played in the film by Rose Byrne.) Winfrey did a wonderful job conveying Deborah's heartache, confusion and loss. She came across as believable. (Although sometimes it is hard to take 'Oprah' out of her roles.) Byrne does a wonderful job as Skloot. Her dogged determination to find answers for not just Deborah and her family, but for herself and to show the world what really transpired. But at the heart of it - who was Henrietta Lacks? Young Henrietta was played by RenĂ©e Elise Goldsberry. The joie de vivre of Henrietta simply shone through in her portrayal.

And what transpired sickened me. Lacks was nothing more than cells to the medical community. The treatment of her and others like her was appalling and despicable. I found myself crying many times at the cavalier nature of their attitudes and actions and the heartache of her children. The treatment of Deobrah's older sister Lily is also a disturbing piece of medical history.

Moving, profound and a story that should have seen the light before now. This viewer loved it.


bermudaonion said...

I had some issues with the book - the author pestered the Lacks family and it felt like it was for personal gain. Having said that, this is a story that NEEDED to be told and I'm glad someone did. I haven't seen the movie yet.

Mystica said...

I doubt I will read this. Too disturbing though of course it is a story that has to be told.

fredamans said...

I loved the movie, but hadn't read the book. I won't bother now.