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Clover woman’s story to become HBO film movie

South Boston News / May 17, 2010
Oprah Winfrey will team up with a veteran television producer to make an HBO movie based on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the best-selling book on the life of a Clover woman whose cells changed the course of modern medicine.

The HBO telepic will be produced by Winfrey’s film company, Harpo Films, and Alan Ball, executive producer of HBO’s “True Blood” series.

Henrietta Lacks headstone planned

Said be high on HBO’s priority list for bringing to the small screen, there is no date set for the movie’s debut, nor word of where it might be filmed. Long stretches of the book unfold in Clover, where Henrietta Lacks grew up and lived before moving to Baltimore.

The highly-acclaimed book, by science journalist Rebecca Skloot, is currently 13th on The New York Times’ non-fiction bestseller list. “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” tells the story of a poor black sharecropper whose cancerous cells, harvested by doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital prior to her death, were the first human cells to be replicated in the laboratory.

HeLa cells, named after Henrietta Lacks, enabled important advances in medicine, including testing for the polio vaccine, and the cells continue to be used by medical researchers around the world today.

The book re-establishes Lacks’ place in modern medicine and tells the poignant story of Lacks’ descendants, for years unaware of the details of Henrietta Lacks’ death at the age of 31 from cervical cancer and her subsequent contributions to science.

HeLa cells launched a multibillion-dollar bio-research industry and spawned numerous medical advances — the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization among them — but her family never received a penny from the sale of the cells.

Library Director Rhonda Griffin relayed news of the upcoming HBO film in an e-mail message Friday.

In an e-mail message sent to Griffin, Skloot wrote that the most exciting aspect of the film is that she and Lacks family members will serve as consultants on the project, and she hopes that it will mean family members will at last see some financial benefit from Lacks’ contribution to medicine

In an interview with the News & Record in March, Skloot told of having spent some 11 years, beginning in 1999, visiting Halifax County to research the book. Her journeys took her to the old Lacks’ homeplace on Lacks Town Road, where Henrietta Lacks is buried (see related story).

In an interview with Variety, a producer with Winfrey’s film company said the celebrity talk show host read the book in one sitting. “She couldn’t put it down,” Kate Forte of Harpo Films told Variety.

Ball, the HBO producer, told the Hollywood trade publication that “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is “an incredibly visually exciting story” and “I thought it would be a perfect movie for HBO.”

The first step towards filming the book will be to recruit a screenwriter, Variety reported.

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