It’s not hard to understand why Saturday Night Live based an entire skit series on Oprah Winfrey’s iconic power. There aren’t many things she hasn’t done or can’t eventually do. From hosting her own talk show to launching a magazine and television network, the industry legend is both highly sought-after and totally inimitable.
The latest endeavor from Winfrey, however, puts her back in front of a movie camera for the first time since 2014, when she played a supporting role in Ava DuVernay’s powerful civil rights drama Selma. After signing on six years ago as an executive producer for HBO Films’ adaptation of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Oprah will now embody real-life cervical cancer victim and medical marvel Henrietta Lacks, as well.
HBO announced Winfrey’s casting earlier today, along with the news that filming would begin this summer. The actress will continue to serve alongside Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood) as an executive producer, in addition to Peter Macdissi (Banshee), Carla Gardini (The Hundred-Foot Journey) and Lydia Dean Pilcher (You Don’t Know Jack).
Your Face Goes Here Entertainment, Harpo Films and Cine Mosaic Production are backing the film, which will see George C. Wolfe (Lackawanna Blues, Angels in America) in the director’s chair. Wolfe also wrote the film’s screenplay, which shares the shocking story of Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer who had parts of her life-threatening tumor removed without her consent. Those pieces were then used to further medical exploration, and eventually build a billion-dollar research industry. Wolfe’s script is an adaptation of the excellent nonfiction book of the same name written by Rebecca Skloot.
Henrietta’s cells, which have been bought and sold endlessly since her death in 1951, helped develop the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization, among many other advances, yet, almost no one knows her name. Lacks died in 1951, but her relationship to the medical industry’s shoddy history of ethics and discrimination has lived on and will now be shared with American audiences.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will mark Winfrey’s second major recent screen role. She can also be seen on her cable channel OWN’s upcoming drama Greenleaf, her first recurring scripted role in more than 20 years.