It has been confirmed that Oprah Winfrey will star in the HBO original film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Based on the New York Times bestseller by Rebecca Skloot , The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is based on the story of Lacks, a poor mother living in Baltimore who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31.  Doctors at Johns Hopkins removed cancerous cells from her body without her family’s knowledge.  A scientist put that sample into a test tube, and, though Henrietta died eight months later, her cells became known worldwide as HeLa, and are still alive today. They became the first immortal human cell line ever grown in culture and one of the most important tools in medicine. Research on HeLa was vital to the development of the polio vaccine, as well as drugs for treating herpes, leukemia, influenza, hemophilia, and Parkinson’s disease; it helped uncover the secrets of cancer and the effects of the atom bomb, and led to important advances like cloning, in vitro fertilization, and gene mapping.   Lack is no longer alive; however, her cells are still among the most widely used in labs worldwide and have been bought and sold by the billions. Though those cells have done wonders for science.  Since 2001 alone, five Nobel Prizes have been awarded for research involving HeLa cells.  The book tells the story of groundbreaking science enabled by Lack’s unusual resilient cells with the devastation that her death and the medical research process had on her family.

This has been a passion project for Winfrey for the past six years.  Alan Ball, creator and exec producer of HBO’s True Blood and Six Feet Under, began pursuing the rights after he received a pre-publication copy November 2009.  In January 2010, Harpo Films producer Kate Forte also began her attempts to acquire the rights to the book.  As soon as Ball and Forte realized they were going after the same property they decided to team up on the project.

Winfrey and Ball will executive produce alongside Peter Macdissi (Banshee), Carla Gardini (The Hundred-Foot Journey) and Lydia Dean Pilcher (You Don’t Know Jack) , a Your Face Goes Here Entertainment, Harpo Films and Cine Mosaic production. Rebecca Skloot will serve as co-executive producer, and Henrietta Lacks’ sons David Lacks, Jr. and Zakariyya Rahman and granddaughter Jeri Lacks are consultants on the project.

The film will go into production this summer! This is a fascinating book, and we can’t wait to see the film adaption on HBO!

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The HBR Media Team is a collective group of black women filmmakers, writers, and studio/network executives who are passionate about bringing visibility to women of African descent working in film and television.

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