Something The Lord Made

This 2004 HBO film depicts the story of Vivien Thomas (Mos Def), an African-American aspiring doctor, and Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), a white surgeon and how these men pioneered modern heart surgery. Set in 1930, when hospitals were still segregated and racial discrimination was very much alive, Dr. Blalock forms a partnership with Vivien Thomas that broke the rules of medicine and society at the time and resulted in one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine.

Alfred Blalock , a cardiologist (therefore, self-confident to the point of arrogance), leaves Vanderbilt for Johns Hopkins taking with him his lab technician, Vivien Thomas. Thomas, an African-American without a college degree, is a gifted mechanic and tool-maker with hands splendidly adept at surgery. In 1941, Blalock and Thomas take on the challenge of blue babies and invent bypass surgery. After trials on dogs, their first patient is baby Eileen, sure to die without the surgery. In defiance of custom and Jim Crow, Blalock brings Thomas into the surgery to advise him, but when Life Magazine and kudos come, Thomas is excluded.

As Blalock and Thomas invent a new field of medicine, saving thousands of lives in the process, social pressures threaten to undermine their collaboration and tear their friendship apart.

 Will Thomas ever get any credit? The film provides a satisfying answer to that question. Joseph Sargent (A Lesson Before Dying) directs with subtlety and intelligence, while Rickman and Mos Def are in top form, often underplaying where most actors would do otherwise. Something the Lord Made won the 2004 Emmy for outstanding made-for-TV movie.


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