Book to Screen: HBO’s Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

HBO's Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Did anyone else catch HBO’s Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks based on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot? I watched it this weekend and thought that it was so well done.  I’m definitely a self proclaimed geek and this is right up my alley!!!! This HBO series stars Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks and Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot.  The movie has a difficult task of  bringing the pain and heartache of the Lacks family to the screen.  It was also difficult to portray the years of research and frustration of the author, Rebecca Skloot, in one 1.5 hour movie.

I  was emotionally moved while I watched the movie but not in the same way as when I read the book.  I’m not sure if it is because I read the book first.  While I definitely liked the book better, I think the movie is worth watching- especially if you don’t plan on reading the book!

I read this book a few years ago and I was absolutely stunned.  With each page I kept thinking to myself “this can’t be true” and yet, somehow, it was.  In the 1950’s an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks unknowingly had her cells taken.  These cells, known as HeLa,  were the first human cells that lived outside the human body and could reproduce indefinitely.  HeLa cells became the basis for medical breakthroughs from creation of the Polio vaccine to cancer and aids research.

“She’s the most important person in the world and her family is living in poverty. If our mother is so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?”
― Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I like non-fiction.  I found this book extremely moving in so many ways.  To know that this family has not received any compensation for the use of the HeLa cells is so upsetting especially when the family can not afford to pay for medical bills. This book isn’t a thriller or one of those books that you need to know what happens next.  We already know how it ends.  But, it’s so interesting and brings about so many ethical questions.  You will definitely learn something and think differently after you have read it!!!

Book to Screen: HBO’s Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Published by Crown/Archetype on February 2nd 2010
Genres: Science, Life Sciences, Biology, Biography & Autobiography, Science & Technology, Social Science, Women's Studies
Pages: 368
Buy on Amazon

Now an HBO® Film starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne


Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can't afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

Book to Screen: immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Book and HBO movie review