The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (TV Movie 2017) Poster

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5/10
Skip the movie and read the book.
carolerj24 April 2017
If I hadn't read the well-written book, I would know less about the Lacks family, Henrietta in particular. In this movie, Henrietta the woman doesn't seem to be the central character.The movie introduces the family and concerns itself mostly with their intense anger at Johns Hopkins for being kept completely in the dark about the research. Thank goodness for HeLa cells, even though no permission was granted because, at the time, it wasn't the norm to ask.The movie's resolution was unsatisfactory for me, but Oprah gives an intensely personal performance as Henrietta's daughter Deborah and will probably be nominated for an Emmy. I had never seen Rose Byrne in a movie or TV show, but I thought she did well as Rebecca Skloot.
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7/10
Movie was good, but book was better (as always)
AndromedaCeline25 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I watched the movie over the weekend, and while I LOVE the sheer fact that they even made a movie about Henrietta and her family's life, I have to say the movie didn't have as much of an emotional impact as the book did. To me the movie is more of a big long commercial for the book. A way to reach a broader audience and get more people interested in who this women was and her role in modern science. Also, to know how her family had to deal with the hoopla about her cells and being taken advantage of every step of the way.

First, the movie was not bad. I liked Oprah as Deborah (love it even more knowing that Deborah was a huge Oprah fan, and would've been ecstatic to meet Oprah, let alone have her portray her in a movie). The actors portraying the family did very well with what they had, and the movie covers a lot of the key points from the book. I also loved the flashbacks of Henrietta before she was sick, and seeing her with young Deborah was very touching.

However, the biggest problem I had with the movie is that it felt it was very rushed, almost incoherent. Now I understand that could have been deliberate, with especially with the jazz infused intro and Deborah's chaotic personality at times, but I don't think it helped give the audience much time to really feel empathy for the characters. Thank God I read the book and know how all of this effected them in detail, because in the movie, you feel almost nothing for them because nothing's explained very well, and you barely had time to process who each were, and what their mother meant to them. Each scene rushed you to one point of the story to the next. We spent the most time with Deborah, who obviously was the main family member who wanted to know the most about her mother. It was her and Rebecca who did all of the foot work in terms of researching what happened to her mother and her older sister, Elsie. But, in the movie they barely touch on why she was so paranoid. For most of the movie, you're just wondering what the hell is wrong with this woman? There's hardly any empathy for her. Then there's the climatic scene at her cousin's house. This was such an intense emotional scene in the book, especially finding out that after that moment, Deborah was on the verge of a stroke. Knowing this further explained her erratic behavior and the emotional roller coaster she'd been on with her mother's cells. But in the movie, they just rushed through it without giving any context as to why this particular moment was so crucial to her story. Plus, the scene was lackluster at best, zero emotional payoff, did it no justice, and my biggest disappointment from the movie.

Overall, I HIGHLY suggest reading the book. I also, suggest listening to the RadioLab podcast episode about the book as well. Not only does it go into more detail about the impact of HELA cells, there's audio footage of Deborah, Rebecca, and that night at her cousin's, which gives that scene even more emotional weight listening to actual footage. The book goes into so much detail on not only Henrietta's life, but the trials and tribulations of her children and what they went through all those years dealing with all the excitement about her cells. Furthermore, it gives more detail as to WHY John Hopkins and other scientific entities never gave compensation to the Lacks family. The "why" part is just as complicated and important as the story itself. Whether you agree with it or not, it's still very fascinating story.

Regardless of how good or bad the movie is, I'm happy Henrietta, Deborah, and the Lacks' family story is being told and they are getting the recognition they deserve. I think it's important to at least know who this woman is and to honor her. As the movie and book pointed out, there's not one person on this planet that hasn't benefited from HELA cells in some way. I know I have, so I say thank you Mrs. Henrietta Lacks.
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1/10
Not very Good
gobux1524 April 2017
After having read the book and suggested this book to a lot of my friends. I was happy to see it become an HBO film. I just finished watching it and I all I can say is read the book. The story line does not even break the surface of what her cells did to help create cures for. It seemed to be more focused on Oprah's character then Henrietta's story. Not surprising since Oprah was behind the making of this film. I was really hoping this was going to be a good show but sadly it turned out to be really bad
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7/10
Not quite what I'd hoped....but still worth seeing.
MartinHafer28 April 2017
Back in 2011, Rebeccas Skloot published "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" and I read this excellent book. The thrust of the book was three-fold: about the contribution of Henrietta's cells to medical research, about the life of Henrietta that Skloot was able to piece together with the help of her family and about her relationship with Henrietta's family. This new film essentially breezes through the first two plot lines and focuses almost exclusively with the relationship between Skloot (Rose Byrne) and Henrietta's mentally ill daughter, Deborah (Oprah Winfrey). Winfrey was amazingly good in her role...but this plot line seemed to be THE film at times and if you want to learn more about Henrietta as well as what made her cancer cells so important, I suggest you just read the book. Overall, well done but far, far from perfect.
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2/10
Disappointing
Lesnord102330 April 2017
The book is fascinating - educates about science, and develops respect for the family and their mother's legacy. it prompts discussions about the ethical issue of the cells. The move, on the other hand, is a family drama with the cells as a prop. Makes the family look crazy - not the point of the book at all. Characters seem stereotypical, poor, uneducated. If you liked the book, the movie is sure to disappoint. The best part of the movie is the credits in the begnining - edgy, informative quickly telling the history of the cells.
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5/10
Interesting topic - but too much Oprah
phd_travel9 July 2017
I watched this show for the smiling and lovely Rose Byrne. Plus the subject is interesting. Unfortunately the focus is a bit off. More needed to be shown on the effects and use of her cells on medical science apart from a brief blast at the beginning. The focus of this movie was on the writer's difficulties with the children of Henrietta Lacks and their various mental and emotional problems. It seemed more like a showcase for Oprah to show her acting skills which are pretty good.

It's like half a good movie missing the main part.
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4/10
What a disappointment
msbehavin_brat23 June 2017
I was so excited to see this movie, as the book has been on my list to read for awhile. I had not gotten around to reading the book prior to seeing the movie & perhaps that would have helped?

The movie is disjointed & makes little sense. It is primarily about Henrietta's daughter & her relationship with the book's author. I was okay with that, but characters were never explained & many decisions in the film & dialogue made no sense b/c the story wasn't flushed out enough to understand the importance of the choices or dialogue. For example the "talk to the men" theme is made a big deal of in the beginning. It's repeated several times. It's never explained though. Why were they insistent that Skloot could only talk to the men. It came from several characters, but then most of the movie is spent NOT talking to the men. It never made any sense. Some character's behavior was not explained until almost the end of the film, which really hurt the viewer's ability to empathize & warm to the characters.

It was such a shame as there were many great actors who performed well, but ultimately the lack of background info & poor choices, made this movie a mess. I had such high hopes :-( I'm still looking fwd to reading the book, maybe that will fill in the huge gaps of the movie. You won't miss much if you skip this one!
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3/10
Read the book instead
bart_cassel1 May 2017
Rarely has an excellent book been so poorly transferred to the screen. You can definitely see Oprah's influence on what was going to be in the screenplay. Gone is almost every scene that would show us Henrietta and HER life, so that Oprah, as her daughter, could monopolize the film. Sad. My advice, read the book instead.
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3/10
I had high expectations but was so disappointed
tsmithjr26 April 2017
I had high expectations for this movie but was so disappointed with the "Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks". I expected a movie more in the vein of "And The Band Played On" (HBO 1993).

Henrietta Lacks deserved a much stronger depiction of her story. The injustices she received were wrong. Period. Instead, the movie focused more on her descendant family while only fleetingly brushing the injustices she received into the movie.

The folks who wrote and directed the movie should be embarrassed. They had a great opportunity but failed to deliver.
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7/10
For me, the family became real
MEMangan15 November 2017
I'm a scientist who had used HeLa cells in my work in the past. I remember that proposal in Science about the cells deserving another species designation--and being dismayed by that myself. And watching the daughter character react to that provided a new perspective for me.

The book was very well done and informative. It provided important awareness for those of us in science about the data we are using and about who provided it. Of course, there were many more details that can't be conveyed in a such a short retelling on film, but I thought it captured the key points very well. And it brought the family to vivid reality in a way the book text cannot. I am really glad to have been able to witness the portrayal of their feelings and reactions to this situation.

It's a worthwhile film on an important topic that people should see and think about. And you should think about it before you submit your DNA to just any research or company that comes along. There may be times when that's the right thing to do--but do consider the implications.
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4/10
Disappointing
lsmith-8789512 June 2017
I was hoping for so much more. I have not read the book, so I don't know how well the film depicted the book. I just felt utterly confused at some scenes. The editing was disjointed and parts of the story seemed to be missing, jumping from one emotion or conversation to another with no explanation. I love Rose Byrne but her character was clearly just a sidekick and there was NO chemistry with Ms. O, I wonder if they even got along during filming?
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2/10
very disappointing
catlvr144 May 2017
I read the book years ago and thought it was terrific. I was very excited to hear that it was going to be made into a movie and waited a long time for its fruition. What a disappointment! I watched it to the end, but honestly, almost turned it off several times. It was nothing like the book as I remember it. I wish I could un-watch this and get the 1 hour,35 minutes I spent watching it back.
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Literally Pointless
TeamRocket_Jessie23 April 2017
The movie should have been set in the 1950s because (A.) the movie should have been about Henrietta Lacks, and (B.) the flashbacks are the only remotely interesting things about the movie. Instead, there are meandering discussions among Henrietta's very annoying relatives (in the movie; I don't know what they're like in real life) about random parts of her life. I have absolutely no idea what the movie is supposed to be about. Henrietta's cells were valuable in scientific research, but that is covered within the opening credits. Normally I love Rose Byrne, but this script is so poor that it makes her seem like she has never acted a day in her life. Her character is only allowed to overreact and perpetually have a deer-in-the-headlights expression. Just. Plain. Awful.
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8/10
Coming to life
revlindacarter13 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I agree that the film seems rushed and busy. However, there were some wonderful scenes here. For those who did not read the book, there's a reason why the movie focused on Deborah and her family. When the author began her journey she didn't know much at all about Henrietta Lacks the person. The only way she was able to learn about Henrietta was through the family that is left behind, and then she had to rely on old memories from the older members of the family. Because this became Deborah's project, she became the lens through which Skloot learned about Henrietta.

It was too bad there is not very much science itself in the film. That might resolve some of the misperceptions, even in these reviews. Henrietta was not cloned. There was not another Henrietta born. Instead, the Hopkins researchers found that the cells from her tumor had the capacity to divide endlessly. The cells in our body do the same thing, especially when we are young and growing, but that multiplication ends when we die. The HeLa cells have become the "guinea pigs" of many research projects. Because there had been such a demand in 1950s cell biology for a cell line that would keep replicating, Hopkins offered this discovery to the world, free of charge. Hopkins did not profit from it.

But there was something transcendent about Winfree's portrayal and Deborah's understanding of the HeLa cells. Deborah really believed that they WERE Henrietta, that they were Henrietta's way of doing good in the world. Toward the end, when Deborah and her brother visit Hopkins and see the cells in their frozen chambers, and then they view these living cells through the microscope, it was as if these two people, who were so young when their mother died that they hardly knew her, now could have a reunion with Henrietta, just because they were in the presence of the cells. Don't count their experience as ignorance or naivete; I think they discovered something in those moments: their mother was present in their lives from the beginning.
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3/10
Too long, Too boring. Not worth your time watching
sage41113 May 2017
I liked the idea of the story but it continued into nowheres-ville. Oprah just wanted another big part and she is the executive producer so most of the show is hers. It should b more of Rose Byrne's, the writer of the book about Henrietta Lacks. Not worth your time or efforts to absorb this lousy film.
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10/10
Heart Wrenching
shannensama24 April 2017
When I saw the only other user review so far was negative I couldn't resist writing one of my own. This a powerful story, and I disagree with the other reviewer both about its alleged pointlessness but also that it should have been set entirely in the context of Henrietta's life. This story isn't just about her; it's about what they took form her, and how she died, and how the medical world cloned her cells and used them to fix and fight all kinds of problems while in contrast she herself died of cancer and the hole that her absence left in her family's life. It's about the heartbreak her family has to live with everyday, without her, in a world full of people who (for the most part) seem more interested in making money from her than who she was or what she left behind.

I'm even more desperate to get my hands on the book now than I was when I saw the trailer and I am extremely disappointed that I didn't find it on the shelves of my local book stores and that I will be forced to order it online. I can't wait to delve into this story further and get further immersed in the details of it; I know movies (especially ones based on books) are frequently disappointing and too often pressed into the same stereotypical molds, so I am eager to see how the story unfolds in the book.
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3/10
Successfully makes Ms. Lacks look like caricatures
michelle-rosenthal24 April 2017
This movie is no such about Ms Lacks and her incredible contribution to science as it as about a crazy, bickering, over the top dysfunctional family. I understand this family was probably angry and mistrustful, but damn. This movie makes them look like crazy, ignorant caricatures we accuse each other of being on social media.
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10/10
Great
jls-7942324 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Lady O can do anything. She is amazing in this role.If you watch it have a hankie.she will break your heart.She should be ready for the gold.I plan on watching again.I also plan to get the book.I have seen some mild reviews. I do not agree.I think the time I spent watching was well worth it.
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10/10
SUPERBLY acted
jrarichards22 July 2018
Warning: Spoilers
If this is what TV movies are like in 2017, then we need more of them. This is a good, nay amazing if troubling, real-life story drawn into George C. Wolfe's film from the book of the same name by Rebecca Skloot - and it is the efforts made by Skloot (here played by Rose Byrne) to put the book together in cooperation with family members that feature in the film, albeit aided by (slightly less compelling) flashbacks to the earlier life of Henrietta Lacks - the woman whose endlessly-reproducing cancer cell-line (called "HeLa") formed the basis for a whole host of medical studies, first at Johns Hopkins University, then around the world. Henrietta is played here by Renee Goldsberry, while her daughter Deborah is brought to life in all her considerable complexity by Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey is indeed SUPERB, playing a mentally troubled, mentally ill, kind, erratic, caring, needy, wronged character with sympathy and skill. Byrne and Winfrey form the main pairing of contrasts here, and its a fine thing to behold; but sometimes the scenes are also shared by an extremely convincing Reg. E. Cathey as Deborah's brother Zakariyya. Other black actors also appear as further members of the family, and all do simply TREMENDOUS work.

And if you're thinking you know this film before you see it, given that devious white scientists have wronged poor, sick, undereducated black people who only now have their rights upheld, you will only be partly right. Lacks and her family were in some ways mistreated, they were surely angry and frustrated and confused; but Deborah was too great a person to not grasp that her mother's cells had done much good in the world, and the film presents us with her visit to Johns Hopkins so many years later. There is reconciliation and healing here, if no real happy ending. There is also an electric mix of scientific and religious philosophising on what this story all means.

Looking at the limited awarding of this film, and many of the comments round here, I'll confess I fail to understand what some people think film-making is for.

Answer: it is for getting actors to put their hearts and souls into portraying stories like "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", and it matters not that the topic is difficult or heavy, but also somehow non-spectacular and not quite mainstream. It matters only that a truly wonderful storytelling art was put into effect, and we as an audience were taken convincingly to places we need at times to go, even if we do not especially want to.
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6/10
You will know everything, but Henrietta Lacks!
Reno-Rangan24 December 2017
It's a good biographical drama, but the only problem is its not what exactly the title says. If you believed to learn about Henrietta Lacks and went to see it, you might end disappointingly. Because she was the only topic of the story, not the actual story, except a few glimpses. It is like you watched 'Infamous' or 'Capote', instead of 'In Cold Blood'. That's what like this film. Yet not a bad film.

A writer pursuing the family members of a person who lived in the mid 20th century, because she was a medical phenomenon. Her cells used to treat cancer, despite she had died of cancer, leaving her young kids behind. Her descendants not aware of how things work in the medical research, only misguided by others, finally, set to discover the truth themselves about all the fuss.

It was nominated for the Emmy, but did not win. Oprah was okay, but Rose Byrne impressed me. Except a misleading title, it is a good film, but I really wanted/want to know the Henrietta Lacks. That's funny, because they have told us an unnecessary story. I hope somebody would make a film about actual Henrietta Lacks!

5.5/10
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7/10
Wow!
kz917-125 September 2017
Oprah sure can bring the crazy ugly is an amazing fierce way. Now, is that good or bad - I'm not quite sure, but definitely entertaining.

The story of Henrietta Lacks biological cells being taken for medical purposes without her family's knowledge or permission has lasting repercussions on her family's mental health and relationships.

I have not read the book, but after viewing this I plan on it.
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10/10
Powerful Epic Movie
traceethomas25 April 2017
This movie was AMAZING! I have not read the book but I plan to. I disagree with some of the negative reviews I read. The intended audience is everyone - those who read the book and others who did not or may not even know about the story. This movie does not focus on HeLa cells and the medical advances made because of them; this movie humanizes the story behind the HeLa cells. Who was Henrietta Lacks? Who were her offspring? When did they find out about their mother's cells being used? More amazingly, the movie analyzes how the discovery of their mother's cell impacted her children.

On a different note, I don't understand how the family is not able to recover financially. It's unfortunate that the laws protect and benefit those with means and power. At minimum, the family should be able to recover for the intentional fraudulent activity directed toward them by the medical community (i.e. taking blood and who knows what other samples from the children of Henrietta under false pretenses).
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4/10
It's not about Henrietta, it's about Oprah
sami-279501 November 2019
I really wanted to learn about Henrietta and her life, but this movie is just an Oprah thing. She's everywhere. It's all about her. Instead of actually showing Henrietta's life we are shown Oprah crying and whining about things that happened and whatnot. It really doesn't tell much and what it tells is such a second hand experience that it doesn't make sense.

Better read the book then I guess.
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8/10
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Jo_Blo_Movie_Critic20 July 2019
8/10 - loved the book and Oprah was great as Deborah
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7/10
"Your cells are going to help a lot of people and make you immortal."
classicsoncall17 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I'd have to say my viewing of the picture was worthwhile, but agree with a lot of other reviewers here that the narrative was more about the legacy of Henrietta Lacks and the effect on her family's fortunes following her death. This was the only time I've seen Oprah Winfrey in an acting role, and I thought she was quite effective as Deborah Lacks, with a nice mix of emotion and gusto whenever she was moved to express her feelings. Much of the story is really about Deborah Lacks and the journalist who researched the story, effectively portrayed by Rose Byrne. As Rebecca Sloot, she had to maintain an inquisitive approach while maintaining a sensitive accord with the diverse personalities of the Lacks family. My greatest astonishment occurred when it was revealed at the end of the story that even today, a patient's consent is not required for research on human tissue obtained during medical treatment if the so called 'donor's' identity is removed. There's something not quite right about that to my mind. When I picked up this film at the library, it was sitting right next to the book about Henrietta Lacks, so I picked the quicker alternative to learn something about the woman who's cells paved the way for once impossible cures for many diseases and medical conditions. Now that I've seen the film, I'm inspired to go back and read the book.
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