Jakarta. Oprah Winfrey and Rose Bryne star in the upcoming drama "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," premieres on HBO later this month.
The drama is inspired by the true story of Henrietta Lacks (Renee Elise Goldsberry), who grew up as a tobacco farmer in Virginia. In 1951, at the age of 31, Lacks was admitted to Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore for cervical cancer.
An unauthorized procedure to remove the cancer cells – later known as HeLa cells – led to medical a breakthrough. While it was impossible to grow an immortal cell line, miraculously, Henrietta's cells continued to multiply outside her body, in the hospital's laboratory.
The HeLa cells were then sold for research purposes by the billions, and became crucial in the development of drugs for polio, leukemia, influenza, even cloning and gene mapping.
The drama by George C. Wolfe highlights medical arrogance, race and poverty. Winfrey, who is also the executive producer of the drama, plays Henrietta's daughter Deborah.
The HBO drama is an adaptation of the 2010 New York Times bestseller "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by science journalist Rebecca Skloot. The author spent 10 years researching the story of Henrietta Lacks, which unveils the science and trust behind such a monumental contribution to the medical world. Bryne plays Skloot in the drama.
Skloot bonded with Deborah in her attempt to write the book.
Winfrey said in a statement that she was intrigued by the story even before the book was published.
"Had [Skloot] not had the conviction to stay with the story, we still wouldn't know about Henrietta; the world would not know about her story. Rebecca was able to put it within a context that the world could receive and understand, and now we've taken it to the next level," she said.
Wolfe, who also wrote the script, said "Immortal Life" centers on Deborah's quest to revisit her mother's past after losing her at the age of 2.
"The story is about loss and identity, the power of knowing your own story and how it manifests itself inside of you. It's about the desire to know so that you can be a more complete human being," he said.
Winfrey, who was not interested in starring in the project, changed her mind when she read Wolfe's script.
"It's about a daughter who is, really, in search of her mother's love and connection in order to validate, verify and affirm for herself that she was loved. Knowing that part of the story is what allowed me to take it on," she said.
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" premieres at 7 a.m. Jakarta time on Sunday, April 23 – at the same time as in the United States. The same-day encore is at 9.50 p.m.