Henrietta Lacks’ Sons at Odds Over HBO Movie

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Henrietta Lacks

The trailer is out and the premiere data is less than a month away for “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” an HBO adaptation of the book of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey. Even before the film is released, however, there is already controversy within Lacks’ family.

More than 20 years after her death in 1951, Lacks’ family found that the Baltimore County farmer’s cells were used by Johns Hopkins for medical research without her permission. The HeLa cells were reproduced, and used to make big breakthroughs into research about AIDS, cancer and gene mapping, among many other uses.

Now, at least one member of the family is concerned about her legacy on film. In a statement to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, her son Lawrence Lacks said HBO, Johns Hopkins and author Rebecca Skloot “say they’re helping our family when they’re not. That makes our life even harder and more complicated.” He goes onto take issue with how the family was portrayed in the book, saying they appear as poor, uneducated farmers.

Ten other family members, including Lacks’ son David Lacks, released their own statement supporting the book, and adding that members had a chance to fact check it before it came out. The book’s publisher, Crown, pushed back, saying the family has not refuted the book in the seven years since it was published.

“Despite the pain we have experienced, we are committed to supporting the miraculous advancements facilitated by the HeLa cells and to moving forward in a meaningful way,” the statement says.

The movie premieres April 22.

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