On Saturday, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks airs on HBO.
The film stars Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks, a woman searching for answers about her late mother, and Rose Byrne, who stars as Rebecca Skloot, the woman who helped Deborah and wrote the book the film is adapted from.
Henrietta Lacks was the progenitor of the HeLa cell line. Often referred to as the immortal cell, HeLa has led to numerous breakthroughs in medicine. Unfortunately, Lacks, who passed away from cervical cancer, was never credited for her significant contribution to science.
While The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks is a powerful story, the real magic of her legacy was felt on Tuesday, during a roundtable with the films stars. I was lucky enough to sit in a room full of talented Black female reporters as we interviewed Winfrey, Byrne, director George C. Wolfe and cast members including Renée Elise Goldsberry, who play Henrietta Lacks, Reg. E. Cathey, Courtney B. Vance, and Rocky Carroll.
Sitting in a small hotel room with Oprah Winfrey is an experience I never thought I’d have. It felt like being at a cookout with your favorite relatives; Oprah, the cool aunt that you wish you could see more often; Courtney B. Vance (who sat among us instead of with the cast) was the funny Uncle who always has a joke up his sleeve; and Reg E. Cathey as the reserved family member who just wants to enjoy everyone’s company.
True, being in a room with a cast as talented as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an incredibly rare experience. But even less likely is finding yourself in a room full of talented Black female reporters, something that I wasn’t the only one to notice.
Turns out, we were experiencing a first with Oprah, too.
Later, a group photo we’d taken with Winfrey, Byrne, and Goldsberry, was shared to the mogul’s Instagram and captioned, “This has never happened before a room filled with all young African American women reporters.#BlackGirlMagic #HenriettaL.”
“This has never happened before a room filled with all young African American women reporters,” is something I can relate to because it was a new experience for me as well. And, it felt significant to be sitting in a room full of talented Black women with a pre-dominantly Black cast and a Black director discussing the importance of sharing Lacks’ story.
Black girl magic was everywhere in that tiny hotel room, where a constant uninterrupted beeping would occasionally cut through the air — we jokingly and affectionately referred to it as Lacks’ spirit.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks isn’t just about finding out who Lacks was, but understanding her life as a Black woman and mother under Jim Crow, seeing how her caring, nurturing personality continues to live on in her cells, and witnessing just how much she gave to the world.
“You have this extraordinary woman,” said director George C. Wolfe, “who at 31 was entirely too young to die, 99 would have been entirely too young for her to die, and that power of who she was just continues to live on.”
Whether through her cells or her story, Henrietta Lacks empowers and inspires us all, and in that room on Tuesday we all felt her magic, her spirit, and her power.