Medical gazing and the oprah effect in the immortal life of Henrietta Lacks (2017)

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Abstract

In 1951, the cancerous cells of Henrietta Lacks, removed during a biopsy without her permission, were the first human cells to reproduce outside of the body. Known as the HeLa cell line, these cells have been reproduced and used for medical research worldwide, possibly the most important medical breakthrough of the last century. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2017), co-produced by and starring Oprah Winfrey, dramatizes the Lacks’ family struggle to understand the way in which the cells have been used. Although the film itself operates as a form of knowledge-producing surveillance, it also exposes the medical gaze as one that has historically been inherently racialized in the US. This chapter contends that although the ‘Oprah Effect’ may have provided the potential to mobilize change, to unify race resistance, and to address prevailing structural inequalities, the inherent individualism within the narrative ruptures Oprah’s perceived ‘race champion’ status.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSurveillance, Race, Culture
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Pages77-97
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9783319779386
ISBN (Print)9783319779379
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

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