Oprah Winfrey is receiving some of the best acting accolades of her storied career for her starring turn in the HBO motion picture, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The film, based on the best-selling book of the same name, tells the story of a young woman whose cells were unknowingly used for research purposes after her untimely death from cervical cancer.
In the movie, Winfrey portrays the daughter of Henrietta Lacks (Deborah), who goes through a life-altering journey of discovering who her mother was and the medical breakthroughs her cells created.
Variety‘s Maureen Ray called Winfrey’s performance one of the best in a 30-plus year acting career that has included such critically acclaimed films as Selma, Beloved, and The Color Purple, which earned the former talk-show host an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1986.
“Winfrey is mesmerizing as Deborah Lacks, whose quest to connect with the history of her mother, who died when she was a baby, forms much of the spine of Skloot’s book. (Henrietta’s cancer cells were unusually hardy, and became the source of the kind of useful cells that labs need in order to perform key biological experiments.)”
Rush went on to note that the emotional weight of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is centered on the character of Deborah, making Winfrey’s performance in the film resonate with viewers.
Among critical reaction to the movie, Oprah Winfrey’s ability to fully inhabit the role of Deborah Lacks stood out the most. Gone is the glamorous billionaire that is known the world over. In this film, she adopts a labored gait that requires a cane. Her hair is grayed and pulled back, and she wears glasses. The physical change that Winfrey undertakes helps audiences get entirely lost in the performance, according to Hank Stuever at The Washington Post, who said that the performance reminds viewers of the skill she possesses as an actor.
“It’s proof positive that Winfrey should make time in her schedule to take more acting jobs. (Unless she wants to run for president, which sounds a lot more plausible than it used to.)”
Though most critics praised Winfrey’s acting performance in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the film itself, written and directed by theater legend George C. Wolfe, did receive some mixed reviews.
While praising the depth of Winfrey’s acting and the movie’s themes, CNN’s Brian Lowry ultimately felt the film disappointed due to an underdeveloped script that failed to capture the complexities and ethical dilemmas of the real-life story.
— Teaching Tolerance (@Tolerance_org) April 21, 2017
In a 2-star review for RogerEbert.com, Brian Tallerico felt that the film’s emphasis on journalist Rebecca Skloot (played by Rose Byrne) meant that less time was spent exploring the life of Henrietta Lacks. He also criticized the number of subplots that bog down the 91-minute film. Still, Tallerico had high praise for the acting in the movie, calling Winfrey “typically fantastic.”
— Women and Hollywood (@WomenaHollywood) April 21, 2017
In addition to her starring turn in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Oprah Winfrey just wrapped filming on Ava Duvernay’s highly anticipated big-screen adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel, A Wrinkle in Time. The movie, which also features Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and Reese Witherspoon, is scheduled to hit theaters in the spring of 2018. In the meantime, Winfrey is staying busy at the helm of her network, OWN, and responding to persistent rumors that she is running for President in 2020.
With all of the critical praise, her acting performance is garnering, Oprah Winfrey’s role in the movie adaptation of the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is sure to expose the compelling story to new audiences.
[Featured Image by Quantrell D. Colbert/HBO]