On April 6 2017, YRB attended “The HeLa Project,” a culturally-grounded, multi-media exhibition inspired by the highly anticipated HBO film, THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne. Directed by George C. Wolfe, the film is based on Rebecca Skloot’s critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller of the same name.
In attendance for the opening night were two-time Caldecott Honor Award winning artist Kadir Nelson and Harlem based artist Lewis Long who both had original works on exhibit.
Also in attendance were Grammy nominated artist Jazmine Sullivan who recorded a moving rendition of “Motherless Children Have a Hard Time” for the film and exhibit and Saul Williams who wrote an original poem.
The room was filled with artists, creatives, and influencers who were engulfed in an interactive, educational, and engaging experience.
Photos by: Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images
About Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951), an African-American woman and married mother of five, living in Baltimore, MD, was diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 31. Under treatment at Johns Hospital, tissue from her malignant tumor was removed without her knowledge or that of her family, a standard practice of the day. Her cells, inexplicably, continued to grow and multiply outside her body in laboratory conditions, which became the first immortal human cell line. The HeLa cells, as they became known, led to the birth of the biomedical industry which saw those cells used in tens of thousands of research studies over the years.
Henrietta’s cells were essential in the creation of the polio vaccine; as well as groundbreaking research on measles, mumps, HIV, Ebola, HPV and countless other diseases; and advancements in cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Additionally, her cells were used to safely test cosmetics (replacing lab animals), to research the effect of deep sea pressure, even to study what causes aging. Amazingly, HeLa cells are utilized to this day!
About the Film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
HBO Films’ THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, directed by George C. Wolfe from a screenplay by Peter Landesman and Alexander Woo and Wolfe, debuts on HBO on Saturday, April 22nd. Told through the eyes of her daughter, Deborah Lacks (Winfrey), the film chronicles her search to learn about the mother she never knew and to understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Lacks’ cancerous cells in 1951 led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs. It’s a story of medical arrogance and triumph, race, poverty and deep friendship between the unlikeliest of people. Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which took more than a decade to research and write, instantly hit the New York Times bestseller list upon publication, and remained there for more than four years. Several members of the Lacks family served as consultants on the film, including Henrietta’s children, David Lacks, Jr. and Zakariyya Bari Abdul Rahman, and Henrietta’s grandchildren, Jeri Lacks Whye, Alfred Carter, Jr. and LaTonya Carter.