As the world mourns the death of actor Alan Rickman—the second British performer to pass this week at age 69 after battling cancer—we remember his starring role in an overlooked film about a similarly-overlooked Black medical pioneer.
Rickman starred with Mos Def in 2004’s “Something the Lord Made,” an HBO movie featuring Mos as Vivien Thomas. Thomas, a Black surgical technician in Depression-era Nashville, worked with surgeon Alfred Blalock (Rickman) at Vanderbilt University and developed the techniques to fight “blue baby syndrome,” a series of heart defects in newborn babies. The developments—for which medical and educational establishments credited Blalock until Thomas’ accomplishments were unearthed after Blalock’s death—opened the door for developments in modern heart surgery.
The film, which also stars Gabrielle Union and Kyra Sedgwick, focuses on Thomas and Blalock’s difficult relationship over the years as Blalock was praised for their developments, while Thomas was shut out and ignored in segregated Nashville. The full version of the film isn’t publically available outside of HBO (except for some grainy and technically compromised streams on YouTube), but you can check out the trailer below.