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Something The Lord Made
Distributed by HBO
Written by Peter Silverman
Robert Caswell
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Produced by Robert W. Cort
Starring Mos Def
Alan Rickman
Kyra Sedgwick
Gabrielle Union
Mary Stuart Masterson
Language English
Release date 30 May 2004

Something The Lord Made is a biopic about the black cardiac pioneer Vivien Thomas and his complex and volatile partnership with white surgeon Alfred Blalock, the world famous "Blue Baby doctor" who pioneered modern heart surgery. Based on the National Magazine Award-winning Washingtonian magazine article "Like Something the Lord Made" by Katie McCabe, the film was directed by Joseph Sargent, scripted by Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell, and produced by Robert Cort, David Madden and Eric Hetzel. Something the Lord Made stars Mos Def as Vivien Thomas, Alan Rickman as Alfred Blalock, and Mary Stuart Masterson as Helen Taussig.


Plot summary

Something the Lord Made tells the story of the extraordinary 34-year partnership which begins in Depression Era Nashville in 1930, when Blalock hires Thomas as an assistant in his Vanderbilt University lab, expecting him merely to perform janitorial work. But Thomas' remarkable manual dexterity and scientific acumen shatter Blalock's expectations, and Thomas rapidly becomes indispensable as a research partner to Blalock in his first daring forays into heart surgery. The film traces the groundbreaking work the two men undertake when they move in 1941 from Vanderbilt to Johns Hopkins, an institution where the only black employees are janitors and where Thomas must enter by the back door. Together, they boldly attack the devastating heart problem of Tetralogy of Fallot, also known as Blue Baby Syndrome, and in so doing they open the field of heart surgery. The film dramatizes their race to save dying Blue Babies against the background of a Jim Crow America, illuminating the nuanced and complex relationship the two sustain. Thomas earns Blalock's unalloyed respect, with Blalock praising the results of Thomas' surgical skill as being "like something the Lord made", and insisting that Thomas coach him through the first Blue Baby surgery over the protests of Hopkins administrators. Yet outside the lab, they remain forever separated by the racial divide. Thomas attends Blalock's parties as a bartender, moonlighting for extra income, and when Blalock is honored for the Blue Baby work at a segregated Belvedere Hotel, Thomas is not among the invited guests. Instead, he watches the proceedings from behind a potted palm at the rear of the ballroom. Critics have ascribed much of the film's power to its sensitive depiction of the disparity between their two worlds and the relative anonymity in which Thomas labored even as Blalock achieved international renown.

A man who in life avoided the limelight, Vivien Thomas remained for decades virtually unknown outside the circle of elite Hopkins surgeons he trained. Thomas' story was first brought to public attention by Washington writer Katie McCabe, who learned of his work with Alfred Blalock on the day of his death in a 1985 interview with a prominent Washington, DC surgeon who described Thomas as "an absolute legend." McCabe's 1989 Washingtonian magazine article on Thomas, "Like Something the Lord Made", generated widespread interest in the story and precipitated the making of a 2003 public television documentary on Thomas and Blalock, "Partners of the Heart."[1] A Washington, DC dentist, Dr. Irving Sorkin, discovered McCabe's article and brought it to Hollywood, where it was developed into the HBO film.[2][3]


The film was based on a National Magazine Award-winning 1989 Washingtonian article "Like Something the Lord Made." It was nominated for nine Emmy Awards (including acting nominations for both principals) and won three, for Best Made for Television Movie, Best Cinematography (Don Morgan) and Best Picture Editing (Michael Brown). It also received two Golden Globe nominations, Black Reel Awards for Best Film and Best Supporting Actor (Clayton LeBouef, in the role of Thomas' activist brother Harold), an NAACP Image Award, a Directors Guild of America Award for director Joseph Sargent, and a Writers Guild of America Award for scriptwriters Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell. The American Film Institute, which named Something the Lord Made the Best Television Movie of the Year for 2004, called it "a revelation...a bittersweet story [that] is an important tool for America as it continues to search for a public vocabulary to discuss issues of race."


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