The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

 (1,625)6.31 h 32 min201716+
[HBO] HD. Oprah Winfrey stars in the true story of a woman's search for enlightenment about her mother--whose cancer cells would save millions.
George C. Wolfe
Oprah WinfreyRose ByrneRenee Elise Goldsberry
EnglishEnglish [CC]
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4.7 out of 5 stars

1625 global ratings

  1. 82% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 9% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 5% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 2% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 2% of reviews have 1 stars

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Top reviews from the United States

VirginiaReviewed in the United States on March 16, 2019
2.0 out of 5 stars
They left out so much!
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This is one of my favorite books so I was very excited when I heard they were making a movie of it. I am sooo disappointed with the movie. They left out so much of the story that what is left just feels disjointed. There was so much backstory that was left out, so much more about Henrietta and the family from way back that you don't understand why the family is so reluctant when the story does start to get exposed. The book is a thousand times better than this movie.
Edited in an additional comment: Just revisited this movie after once again re-reading the book and I stand by the original star rating. I think that if you are new to the story line...have not read the book or know anything about what the story is about....then you might enjoy the premise. Having read the book (several times by now) I just can't help but notice how much of the story is missing. There are a lot of really important things that just never get shown in the film...things that explain a lot about the family, the history of the cells and everything in between. This is a story that really deserves to be remade with a much better cast and definitely needing more talented scriptwriters.
26 people found this helpful
VictoriaSelene Skye~DemeReviewed in the United States on July 10, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
Gold Gilded Agony
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Very hard to watch, it's rendered in an intimate way you feel like your inside the characters, in their pain, their unique individuality and expressions of emotions. I already knew the story from back in university days, but not like this, only from a scientific perspective as the HeLa cell, it's function and applications, there was never a name put to it, no origin of cultivation. And then the book came out, and it shattered everything for me from the viewpoint of a 21st century scientific mind.
The movie is the beginning and not the end of the story of Henrietta Lacks. As a human being, her story resounds like a steel echo of my spiritual evolution , as a person with the mind of a theoretical physicist, a scientist, I am excruciatingly fascinated by the origin of Ms. Lack's cellular composition. She was more than human, that's unquestionable, her genetic sequence beyond what we can yet understand , It underlies today's stem cell research. I want to know more, more about the woman, the human being, the child, the woman, the mother. What irony is it to have the name of Lacks, when she possessed the key to immortality in her very cells. Something Jon Hopkins recognized and took it upon itself without the consent of the immediate family, to take and utilize the key for its own gains. Ms. Henrietta lives on forever inside her descendants and frozen in tubes (the latter a chilling thought). On it's own, that it was cultivated from cervical cancer cells gives an undeniable chill and brings to foresight the question of what exactly IS cancer? The theories are endless and the range is wide and varied. All that aside, we all know why J Hopkins chose to rename it the HeLa. And that in itself is disgraceful. A lot of the benefits of today have been culled from atrocities of not that long ago. Think about that between the tears shed for the lives created and moved by Ms. Henrietta Lacks. Remembered , loved, cherished and so much more than any of us will ever understand.
11 people found this helpful
Marlisa Artemisia L.Reviewed in the United States on September 5, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
Thank you, Henrietta Lacks
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Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, until Rebecca Skloot pens her nonfiction book.
HBO produces a movie of the same name as the book, starring Oprah.
24 people found this helpful
Mary BurnsReviewed in the United States on November 28, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
An True Story: Unsung Hero, Henrietta Lacks- Watch & Learn
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I read this book years ago, it changed my life. I rented the movie to refresh myself because I was speaking about her in a speech for my public speaking class. The movie of course doesn’t have half as much information as the book, but it was a great refresher for what I needed and an excellent movie and it’s own right. This is a true story, what happened to this family. Informed consent, unbelievably, still isn’t what it needs to be in2018 even after her story has gone public! There are still states where your consent is NOT needed to perform unnecessary medical procedures or to keep parts of your body that are removed, in the name of training and research. Watch this movie and learn!
14 people found this helpful
BradleyKReviewed in the United States on September 25, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
A great movie based on a real, tragic story in a book of the same name
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This is the story of some cells taken from a black woman's cervical cancer tumor in the 1950s. The cells were able to be kept alive and they multiplied like crazy. The cells line is called HELA for Henrietta Lacks. Her family did not find out about their mother's cell line until decades later. It is a tragic story but a good story and has raised many ethical questions in the medical research community. Some changes have been made. I believe more should be made. As usual the movie cannot put everything that is in the source book in the movie. So get both the book and movie. Especially if you are interested in medical research in general or ethics in medicine. HELA cells have been used to useful treatments for many different diseases and cancers. Also consider getting the book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee ( This is a fascinating book of the history of the struggle of the battle of with cancer going way way back written by a very respected oncologist/surgeon who has written many magazine articles and books that bring medical science down to a common person's level of understanding.
2 people found this helpful
AnonnymouseReviewed in the United States on December 25, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
Henrietta Lacks was a miracle we need to acknowlege
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Thanks to Oprah for bringing the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family to the screen. Henrietta died of cervical cancer in the 1950's. Scientists had been hoping to find miracle cells that could live outside the human body. They did with Henrietta, a woman whose cells are like no other persons. The famous HeLo cells have been used by scientists since Henrietta'a passing, making the way for major advancements in health care.

This is the story of Henrietta and her family. This is also the story of author Rebecca Skloot who fell in love with telling the truth about a woman we all owe gratitude to. Henrietta Lacks. Skloot had a passion to tell the world who HeLo really was. She was not Helen Lake, as scientists said to cover up the true identity. Skloot won over Henrietta's family and went on an amazing journey with them to get Lacks story to the public. There will never be another story quite like this one. I only wish Henrietta could have known that she literally saved the world from dreaded diseases.
Supaili Reviewed in the United States on December 29, 2017
3.0 out of 5 stars
Must watch , very interesting .
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Loved it . I’m so interested in this story and understand this was about the toll it took on the family . Although it’s good, I would have wanted to hear more about the HeLa cells themselves. The family is documented as not knowing much about their mother and less about her cancer so the story is just that . A movie with known story holes. Oprah’s acting was amazing !
11 people found this helpful
Karl AReviewed in the United States on January 10, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
Outstandingly talented actors/actresses, amazing graphics, strong message, very moving
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I read the book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" for a Biology 10 book report and loved it. I originally picked the book because my librarian recommended it to me and stated that it was hard to put down. While the book was beautifully written, the movie was a major help in the visualization of the characters and the setting where the book took place. I loved the harsh reality of the film, it helped me understand what it was like to grow up in a poor black community with abusive parents and other family issues (especially with intermarriage among the cousins). The screenwriter did a wonderful job at including impactful scenes that made me both excited to keep watching and intrigued to learn what might happen next. There were many scenes in the movie that moved me to the point of tears. To sum it up, it is a wonderful movie with an outstanding performance from Oprah Whinfrey.
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