Through the Lens of Race: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

Elisa Stroh's picture
November 8, 2017
Pennsylvania, United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Public Health
 Through the Lens of Race: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
4:00pm EST
Mitchell Auditorium, Bossone Research Center, Drexel University 3140 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Join the Barbara Bates Center and The Program in Public Health Ethics & History at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University for a viewing of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” with commentary from Vanessa Northington Gamble, MD, PhD, and Michael Yudell, PhD.

In Spring 2017, HBO released a film adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s critically acclaimed, bestselling non-fictional book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”  The film offers a unique opportunity to add depth and perspective to discussions of race, power, and structural inequality in the United States, both in the past and present. This symposium provides a public forum to view the movie and to participate in an analysis and critique of Skloot’s book and the film.

Speakers Vanessa Northington Gamble, MD, PhD, and Michael Yudell, PhD, will offer their comments and analysis of the movie after the viewing. 

A short reception will follow the the movie. 


The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cells were used to create the first immortal human cell line. Told through the eyes of her daughter, Deborah Lacks, the film chronicles her search, aided by journalist Rebecca Skloot, to learn about the mother she never knew and to 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. 


Vanessa Northington Gamble, MD, PhD, a physician and medical historian, chaired the Tuskegee Syphilis Study Legacy Committee in 1997 that secured a presidential apology for the treatment of Africa American patients. Before coming to GW, she taught at Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College, the University of Wisconsin, and Johns Hopkins University. Appointed head of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) Division of Community and Minority Programs in 1999, Professor Gamble has served as consultant or committee member on a range of projects run by national medical organizations, including the Institute of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

Michael Yudell, PhD, is Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Community Health and Prevention at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University. Yudell received his PhD and MPH from Columbia University and his BA from Tufts. He is the author of three books, including Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the 20th Century,winner of the 2016 Arthur J. Viseltear Award from the American Public Health Association. He is currently writing Ages of Uncertainty: Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Search for Cause and Cure, a history of autism spectrum disorders. Yudell also writes the blog “The Public’s Health” for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Yudell appears monthly with the improv group Study Hall at the Philadelphia Improv Theater.

This Interdisciplinary Symposium in the History of Public Health and Ethics is sponsored by the Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, the Program in Public Health Ethics and History, Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, and the Office of Equality and Diversity, Drexel University

Contact Info: 

Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing

(215) 898-4502