Last week, HBO officially launched “The HeLa Project,” a culturally-grounded, multi-media exhibition in NYC inspired by the highly anticipated HBO film, THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne. Directed by George C. Wolfe, the film is based on Rebecca Skloot’s critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller of the same name.
In attendance for the opening night were two-time Caldecott Honor Award-winning artists Kadir Nelson and Harlem-based artist Lewis Long, who both had original works on exhibit. Also in attendance were Grammy nominated artist, Jazmine Sullivan, who recorded a moving rendition of “Motherless Children Have a Hard Time” for the film and exhibit, and Saul Williams, who wrote an original poem. The room was filled with artists, creatives, and influencers who were engulfed in an interactive, educational, and engaging experience.
Henrietta is often referred to as the Mother of Modern Medicine, yet few of us know of the woman and
her miraculous story. Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951) was an African-American woman – a poor tobacco farmer, originally from Roanoke, Virginia, living in Baltimore, MD. In 1951, following the birth of her fifth child., she sought
medical treatment for a “knot in her womb.” During the examination, she unknowingly donated her
cells to medicine, which were later cultured to create the first human immortal cell line, HeLa. While
Henrietta passed away from an aggressive form of cervical cancer within the year, her cells lived on.
Henrietta’s cells were essential in the creation of the polio vaccine; as well as groundbreaking research
on measles, mumps, HIV, Ebola, HPV, and countless other diseases. HeLa cells also facilitated;
advancements in cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization, and were used to safely test cosmetics
(replacing lab animals), to research the effect of deep sea pressure, and even to study what causes
aging. Amazingly, HeLa cells are utilized to this day.
See exclusive Hollywood Unlocked coverage of the powerful exhibition above.