The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks - Black History Month
HBO commissioned this painting after the company made a movie based on the award-winning nonfiction book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The canvas is co-owned by the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Bill Pretzer, a senior curator at the African-American museum, says the story of Lacks is also one of racial history, bioethics and medical history.
"Doctors had been trying for half a century to grow cells in laboratory circumstances that would reproduce," Pretzer said.
Lacks' cells did. What's become known as her "immortal line" is represented in the painting, said Pretzer, by a pattern in her cheerful red dress that resembles cell structures when you look at it closely.
Along with the painting, Lacks has been re-remembered in all kinds of ways in recent years: She received a posthumous doctorate in public service from a college in Maryland. A high school for students interested in medicine now bears her name. So does a minor planet whirling in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.