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Netflix’s Project Power Explained-Gene Splices And Who Is Henrietta Lacks?

Project Power is a high octane action film that is slick, smart enough, and action-packed. It is just what our pandemic starved brains needed.

Netflix’s latest Project Power starring powerhouses Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another summer-defining blockbuster that is more fun than it should be. Foxx and Lovett are veterans and in a period marked by little in the way of major motion pictures. The film is filled with explosions, humor, heart, and enough comic book fighting to keep you entertained from jump.

Netflix has defined 2020. When the pandemic hit and production ground to a halt, the streamer stepped up and delivered a variety of mind-numbing options to keep us from realizing just how bad things had gotten. High concept offerings like The Old Guard and The Umbrella Academy filled the void with huge stars who quite frankly should have felt like they were slumming and bombastic action sequences. Project Power is the latest to drop and proof that while Netflix undoubtedly has completion they aren’t done reigning supreme.

Project Power

A likable cast led by everyone’s favorite little brother Joseph Gordon-Levitt(Frank) and the coolest cat in Hollywood Jamie Foxx(Art) is rounded out by Dominque Fishback(Robin). Fishback’s Robin has no trouble keeping up with the veterans who easily could overpower a lesser actor. Robin is real in a way few teen characters feel and is reasonable in her responses to increasingly crazier events. When things take a wild turn, she is freaked instead of stoically brave, which writers often think heroes should be.

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Robin is a dealer of the “lightning in a pill” to make money to care for her sick mother. She fails at school more than succeeds in large part due to circumstance and life pressures. Robin is smart and strong, and more than a little bright. Several times she busts out raps that aren’t the usual cringe-worthy movie raps we often hear. Courtesy of emerging Alabama rapper Chika, they are some of the highlights of the film. Along with Frank, an undercover cop who occasionally buys from her and acts as a bodyguard/handler of sorts, she works the streets. When the duo hooks up with Art, things come together.

A corrupt pharmaceutical company(as they often are) along with a shady military agency has developed a drug that makes you super-powered for five minutes. At which point you revert to your ordinary self. The problem is, no one knows what power you will get until you take the drug, and some of the powers kill you. Some people get useful talents like bulletproof skin, incredible strength, and invisibility, while others are turned into human flamethrowers and blow themselves up. It’s a crapshoot that desperate people roll the dice on in the hopes that they roll a hard six.


The government developed the drug by experimenting with soldiers in the early days. That is how the lone wolf vigilante Art(Foxx) became involved. He stopped taking the drug, but unfortunately, his unborn daughter got a dose when he impregnated his wife. She is now the source of the newest version of the drug. The company has kidnapped her to bleed her dry ramping up production. Think what Stephen Dorff’s character wanted to do to Wesley Snipes’ Blade. It’s also what Weyland-Yutani Corporation wanted to do to Newt and Ripley in Aliens. Basically, its greedy pigs being pigs.

In a demonstration of the pill’s potential, Gardner(Amy Landecker) and Biggie dose an unfortunate volunteer and mumble maniacally about geckos and other animal anomalies. Taking a page from Deep Blue Sea’s hyper-smart sharks, and Dr. Moreau’s menagerie, the drug was developed using a myriad of animal genes. A little lizard here for reproduction and camouflage, some elephant for strength, and a touch of Bombadier Beetle to breathe fire. You never know which genetic lottery you will hit, but that’s part of the thrill. In 2017 doctors successfully spliced pig and human DNA, so it’s not entirely unrealistic.

In the final act, the de facto President of the shady drug company justifies her pseudoscience and kidnapping by corporate-splaining about genetics and Henrietta Lacks. While the speech is a prime example of villainous ranting, it also peaked more than a little curiosity. Genetic testing and tinkering have been going on for decades. Doctors are just now beginning to develop genes that can target diseases and illnesses. CRISPR is one example. It is a gene-altering molecule based on a virus that some tout as the future of disease control and others as the onset of designer babies. Regardless of your beliefs, the future is now, and although Gardner is evil, she isn’t that far off.

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Doctors and scientists have done things in the name of progress and human life that aren’t always right-for example, the case of Henrietta Lacks. In 1951, Lacks, an African American woman has a biopsy performed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. The biopsy was positive for cancer, and unfortunately, Lacks died the same year. That was not the end of Lacks’ cells, however. They were cultured without her knowledge by George Otto Gey, who created the immortal cell line HeLa, which still exists today.

Lacks’ cells multiplied faster and stayed alive longer than others outside the body allowing for advanced research opportunities. Because of their viability, they have been used for everything from Polo vaccines to AIDS research. Her cells were cloned in 1955 and continue to grow and be used today. They are the first immortal cell line in history.

Not only are the cells themselves instrumental in medical advancement, but this case brought to the forefront the issue of privacy and consent. The family never learned of Henrietta’s cell’s use until the early 1970s when family members were solicited for blood samples. Large numbers of Henrietta’s cells were contaminated, prompting the inquiries. Additionally, many medical studies have been published, including a German study in 2013 without the family’s consent or knowledge. The family is currently pursuing legal options.

Where there is money to be made and people without a conscience, there will be misuse. Project Power is just another example of Henrietta Lacks and the Tuskegee Study. Those in power take advantage of those lacking. While some might question the casting of a white cop semi-hero teaming up with a teenage girl to fight crime in the post-George Floyd era, the setting of New Orleans and Foxx and Fishback make the legacy of Lacks and POC in medical experimentation more relevant than it would have been earlier this year. That’s not to say it wasn’t important in March, just that many people weren’t acknowledging it. For all the big bada booms, fiery explosions, and pitch-perfect comedic timing, Project Power is a smart movie that is deeper than it presents.

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