In HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Oprah Winfrey stars as Deborah Lacks, the daughter of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose cell line (called HeLa) has benefited science, leading to medical breakthroughs in the development of the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and much more. The problem is, Henrietta’s cells were taken without her permission.
Based on Rebecca Skloot’s narrative nonfiction book of the same name, the George C. Wolfe-directed film stars Winfrey, Renée Elise Goldsberry as Henrietta and Rose Byrne as Skloot.
The moving trailer weaves between generations, with scenes depicting Henrietta in the 1950s and present day scenes showcasing Deborah’s quest to seek justice for her mother’s legacy. “For years it seemed like a dream about our mother,” Deborah says in the opening voiceover. “Could this be true?”
In the clip, Deborah is told that “everyone’s saying Henrietta Lacks donated them cells. She didn’t donate nothing. They took them and didn’t ask.” The Lacks family grapples with the ethical and legal implications in the wake of this knowledge.
In 1976, Rolling Stone published “The Double-Edged Helix,” which discussed HeLa, tracked the cells to Henrietta Lacks and interviewed members of the Lacks family. “I always thought it was wonderful that Rolling Stone had the first nugget of the story,” Skloot said.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks airs on April 22nd at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.