Watch 'The Way of All Flesh' - A 1997 BBC Documentary on Henrietta Lacks
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Film , Television

Watch 'The Way of All Flesh' - A 1997 BBC Documentary on Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks

Now that we know of HBO’s telepic based on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the non-fiction book by Rebecca Skloot (April 22), you’re also encouraged to watch the below BBC documentary on Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cell line, titled “The Way of All Flesh.”

Produced in 1997 by Adam Curtis for the BBC (about 13 years before Skloot’s book), “The Way of All Flesh” is not entirely comprehensive, and shouldn’t be relied on as a sole source on Lacks and her family line. But there’s enough here to get you going, especially if you know nothing about Lack’s story, and haven’t read Skloot’s bestseller. Consider it a companion to HBO film and the book, which you should also read.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” tells the story of Lacks, a poor African America Baltimore mother of five who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at age 31, and whose cancerous cells, removed and cultured from her body for medical research by doctors at Johns Hopkins (without her family’s knowledge), led to significant breakthroughs in medical research, ranging from aiding the development of the cure for polio to AIDS-related treatments, and much more.


But that doesn’t even begin to really uncover the story of this mostly unknown black woman, her family, and the critical contributions she unknowingly made to science. There’s a lot of meat here, and we can see why Oprah Winfrey (who optioned the book soon after it was first published), who also stars in the HBO film, would be interested in adapting the story for the screen.

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 understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Lacks’ cancerous cells in 1951 led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, changing countless lives and the face of medicine forever.

Joining Winfrey in front of the camera are some stellar actors including Renee Elise Goldsberry, Courtney B. Vance, Leslie Uggams, Rocky Carroll, Rose Byrne, Reg E. Cathey, Reed Birney, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, John Douglas Thompson, Adriane Lenox, Kyanna Simone Simpson and Roger Robinson.

George C. Wolfe directs from his screenplay adaptation of Skloot’s book.

Watch Adam Curtis’ “The Way of All Flesh” below:

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