According to the Associated Press, Johns Hopkins University and the family of Henrietta Lacks announced a new building on the school’s campus in East Baltimore will be named after the woman whose cells were taken without her consent and widely used in revolutionary cell research.
News outlets report the building will support programs promoting research and community engagement. Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the university where researchers soon discovered her cells reproduced indefinitely in test tubes.
For decades, it was not widely known that a black woman who was a patient at Hopkins was the unwitting source of the famous HeLa cells. It was only once Rebecca Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was published in 2010 that Lacks’ story gained national attention. Oprah Winfrey subsequently produced and starred in a 2016 HBO biopic of Lacks’ life.
The announcement was part of the 9th Annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, NBC 4 reports. Lacks’ granddaughter, Jeri Lacks, says the honor befits her grandmother’s role in advancing modern medicine.
Last year, the city of Baltimore designated October 4 as Henrietta Lacks Day to recognize the contributions of the woman behind the HeLa cells.
According to the Smithsonian Institute, next Tuesday, its National Portrait Gallery will recognize and honor the life of Henrietta Lacks with the installation of a 2017 portrait by Kadir Nelson on the museum’s presentation wall on the first floor. The portrait was jointly acquired by the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture as a gift from Nelson and the JKBN Group LLC, and will be shared by the two museums. The painting will be on display at the Portrait Gallery through Nov. 4.
Lacks, a mother of five, lost her life to cervical cancer at age 31. During her treatment, doctors took cells from her body and discovered they lived long lives and reproduced indefinitely in test tubes. These “immortal” HeLa cells have since contributed to over 10,000 medical patents, aiding research and benefiting patients with polio, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions.
Considering the history of medical testing on African Americans without their permission, the fate of Lacks raised questions about ethics, privacy and racism. Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 best-selling book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, addressed those issues and later prompted Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions to adapt her story into a theatrical movie that first aired on HBO in 2017.
“It is fitting that Henrietta Lacks be honored at two Smithsonian museums, as each approaches American history from unique and complementary perspectives,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “Lacks’ story presents moral and philosophical questions around issues of consent, racial inequalities, the role of women, medical research and privacy laws, providing rich platforms for historical understanding and public dialogue.”
“The National Museum of African American History and Culture has always felt that the story of Henrietta Lacks is a significant and important moment that deserved greater recognition,” said Lonnie Bunch, director of the museum.
Commissioned by HBO, Nelson used visual elements to convey Lacks’ legacy. The wallpaper features the “Flower of Life,” a symbol of immortality; the flowers on her dress recall images of cell structures; and two missing buttons allude to the cells taken from her body without permission.
Oprah Winfrey will be honored with the 2018 Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 75th Annual Golden Globes.
Each year the recipient of the prestigious award is selected by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) board of directors and must be someone who has made “an incredible impact on the world of entertainment.” HFPA president Meher Tatna said Winfrey embodies this qualification for the generations she has “celebrated strong female characters on and off screen, and has been a role model for women and young girls for decades.”
“As a global media leader, philanthropist, producer and actress, she has created an unparalleled connection with people around the world, making her one of the most respected and admired figures today,” Tatna said in a statement. “Holding titles such as Chairman, CEO and Founder, Oprah is one of the most influential women of our time, and this honor is well deserved especially in this 75th anniversary year of the Golden Globe Awards.”
Chairman and CEO of her own cable network — OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network — Winfrey is currently an executive producer on series such as “Greenleaf,” “Queen Sugar” and “Oprah’s Master Class.” In 2017 she executive produced and starred in the Emmy nominated HBO original movie “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” and in 2018 she will appear in “A Wrinkle in Time” from Ava DuVernay. She is also the founder of O, The Oprah Magazine, and oversees Harpo Films.
Perhaps best known as the host of her multi-award-winning talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which came to an end in 2011, Winfrey is also the founder of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academyfor Girls in South Africa, which provides education for “academically gifted” girls from disadvantaged backgrounds and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and celebrating the school’s seventh graduating class.
Winfrey has been celebrated by the HFPA before, with a Golden Globe Award nomination for her role in “The Color Purple” in 1986.
Morgan Freeman, who received the same award in 2012, announced Winfrey’s honoree status during the airing of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s (HFPA) “Golden Globe 75th Anniversary Special,” which aired on NBC.
In addition to Freeman, recent honorees include Audrey Hepburn, Barbra Streisand, Denzel Washington, George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Jodie Foster, Lucille Ball, Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Sidney Poitier, Sophia Loren and Steven Spielberg.
The 75th Annual Golden Globes will be hosted by Seth Meyers and air live coast-to-coast on Jan. 7, 2018 starting at 8pm ET/5pm PT on NBC.
Watch Freeman announce Winfrey as the 2018 Cecil B. DeMille Award recipient below:
Exhibition to Feature Artist Kadir Nelson and Poet Saul Williams.
HBO recently announced the official launch of “The HeLa Project,” a culturally-grounded, multi-media exhibition inspired by the highly-anticipated HBO film, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne, which will premiere on April 22. Directed by George C. Wolfe, the film is based on Rebecca Skloot’s critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller of the same name.
The film tells the true story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cells were used to create the first immortal human cell line that ultimately led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, changing countless lives and the face of medicine forever.
“The HeLa Project” is designed to celebrate Henrietta Lacks, the woman – to give her a voice and to humanize and recognize her. The exhibition features an original portrait by two-time Caldecott Honor Award winning artist Kadir Nelson and an original poem by Saul Williams. Additional art, curated by Lewis Long of Long Gallery Harlem, includes works by Derrick Adams, Zoe Buckman, Madeleine Hunt Ehrlich, Doreen Garner, and Tomashi Jackson. The product of these elements, plus an educational, sculptural installation about the HeLa cells, all converge in this engaging experience.
The exhibition debuted last week in Baltimore at the Reginald Lewis Museum, and will run April 7th – April 9thin SoHo, New York (465 W. Broadway, Fri – Sat, 11am – 7pm, Sun 12pm – 5pm).
“The HeLa Project” will be making additional stops in Atlanta, GA on April 13th – April 16th at theNational Center for Civil and Human Rights.
According to Variety.com, Oprah Winfrey will star in the adaptation of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” for HBOFilms. Winfrey’s Harpo Films optioned Rebecca Skloot‘s 2010 best-seller years ago, and it with her commitment to star as well as executive produce, it will finally be produced this summer. Skloot will serve as a co-executive producer. George C. Wolfe, who adapted the memoir, will also direct.
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” tells the true story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cells (HeLa cells) were used to create the first immortal human cell line, which helped scientists make unprecedented medical breakthroughs, including Jonas Salk’s development of the polio vaccine.
Told through the eyes of her daughter, Deborah Lacks, played by Winfrey, the film chronicles her search to learn about the mother she never knew and to understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Lacks’ cancerous cells in 1951 changed countless lives and the face of medicine forever.
Henrietta Lacks’ sons Zakariyya Rahman and David Lacks, Jr. and granddaughter Jeri Lacksare will serve as consultants on the HBO project.