Something the Lord Made

Something the Lord Made
Written byPeter Silverman
Robert Caswell
Directed byJoseph Sargent
StarringMos Def
Alan Rickman
Kyra Sedgwick
Gabrielle Union
Mary Stuart Masterson
Original languageEnglish
ProducersRobert W. Cort
David Madden
Eric Hetzel
Julian Krainin
Mike Drake
CinematographyDonald M. Morgan
EditorMichael Brown
Running time110 mins
Production companiesHBO Films
Nina Saxon Film Design
Original release
ReleaseMay 30, 2004 (2004-05-30)

Something the Lord Made is a 2004 American made-for-television biographical drama film about the black cardiac pioneer Vivien Thomas (1910–1985) and his complex and volatile partnership with white surgeon Alfred Blalock (1899–1964), the "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 and written by Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell.


Something the Lord Made tells the story of the 34-year partnership that begins in Depression Era Nashville in 1930 when Blalock (Alan Rickman) hires Thomas (Mos Def) as an assistant at his Vanderbilt University lab, expecting him to perform janitorial work. But Thomas' remarkable manual dexterity and intellectual acumen confound Blalock's expectations, and Thomas rapidly becomes indispensable as a research partner to Blalock in his forays into heart surgery.

The film traces the two men's work when they move in 1943 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 attack the congenital heart defect of Tetralogy of Fallot, also known as Blue Baby Syndrome, and in so doing they open the field of heart surgery.

Helen Taussig (Mary Stuart Masterson), the pediatrician/cardiologist at Johns Hopkins, challenges Blalock to come up with a surgical solution for her Blue Babies. She needs a new ductus for them to oxygenate their blood.

The duo is seen experimenting on stray dogs they got from the local dog pound, deliberately giving the dogs the heart defect and trying to solve it. The outcome looks good and they are excited to operate on a baby with the defect, but in a dream, Thomas sees the baby grown up and crying because she's dying. Thomas asks why she's dying in the dream and she says it's because she has a baby heart. Blalock interprets it as the fact that their sewing technique didn't work because the sutures didn't grow with the heart, and worked on a new version that would work.

The film dramatizes Blalock's and Thomas' fight to save the dying Blue Babies. Blalock praises Thomas' surgical skill as being "like something the Lord made", and insists that Thomas coach him through the first Blue Baby surgery over the protests of Hopkins administrators. Yet outside the lab, they are separated by the prevailing racism of the time. Blalock makes a mistake once by accidentally cutting an artery at the wrong place, but eventually, along with Thomas, succeeds. As word quickly spreads of their success, parents all over the country flock to the hospital with their sick children, hoping the surgery will cure them. Also doctors from around the world start attending Thomas's surgery in order to learn how to do the surgery themselves so they can treat their own patients. Thomas attends Blalock's parties as a bartender, moonlighting for extra income, and when Blalock is honored for the Blue Baby work at the segregated Belvedere Hotel, Thomas is not among the invited guests. Instead, he watches from behind a potted palm at the rear of the ballroom. From there, he listens to Blalock give credit to the other doctors who assisted in the work but make no mention of Thomas or his contributions. The next day, Thomas reveals that he saw the ceremony, and quits from his lab. However, his heart is with the work he left behind so much that he is unhappy in other endeavors. He therefore decides to overlook Blalock's lack of acknowledgement and return to the lab.

In 1964, one day before Blalock dies, he sees Thomas, now a professional surgeon and trainer in the open heart surgery wing. After Blalock's death, Thomas continued his work at Johns Hopkins training surgeons. At the end of the film, in a formal ceremony in 1976, Hopkins recognized Thomas' work and awarded him an honorary doctorate. A portrait of Thomas was placed on the walls of Johns Hopkins next to Blalock's portrait, which had been hung there years earlier. and a brief montage shows 'DR. ALFRED BLALOCK 1899-1964' over Blalock's portrait, and 'DR. VIVIEN THOMAS: 1910-1985' over Thomas's.


Film background

A man who in life avoided the limelight, Thomas remained virtually unknown outside the circle of Hopkins surgeons he trained. Thomas' story was first brought to public attention by Washington writer Katie McCabe, who learned of his work with Blalock on the day of his death in a 1985 interview with a prominent Washington, D.C. 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 inspired the making of a 2003 public television documentary on Thomas and Blalock, "Partners of the Heart." A Washington, D.C. dentist, Irving Sorkin, discovered McCabe's article and brought it to Hollywood, where it was developed into the film.

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Artios Awards Best Casting – TV Movie of the Week Lynn Kressel and Pat Moran Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards Best Motion Picture Made for Television Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Mos Def Nominated
Alan Rickman Nominated
Best Costume Design in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Nominated
Best Editing in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Nominated
Best Lighting in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Nominated
Best Music in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Won
Best Production Design in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Made for Television Movie Robert W. Cort, David Madden, Eric Hetzel,
Michael Drake, and Julian Krainin
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Mos Def Nominated
Alan Rickman Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Joseph Sargent Nominated
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell Nominated
Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special Lynn Kressel and Pat Moran Nominated
Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie Donald M. Morgan Won
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special Michael Brown Won
Outstanding Single-Camera Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie Rick Ash, Adam Jenkins, and Bruce Litecky Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Miniseries or Motion Picture for Non-Commercial Television Michael Brown Won
American Film Institute Awards Top 10 Television Programs Won
BET Awards Best Actress Gabrielle Union Nominated
Black Reel Awards Outstanding TV Movie or Mini-Series Robert W. Cort and Eric Hetzel Won
Outstanding Director, TV Movie or Mini-Series Joseph Sargent Nominated
Outstanding Actor, TV Movie or Mini-Series Mos Def Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor, TV Movie or Mini-Series Clayton LeBouef Won
Outstanding Supporting Actress, TV Movie or Mini-Series Gabrielle Union Nominated
Cinema Audio Society Awards Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television Movies and Mini-Series Bruce Litecky, Rick Ash, and Adam Jenkins Nominated
Critics' Choice Awards Best Picture Made for Television Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television or Miniseries Joseph Sargent Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
Best Actor – Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Mos Def Nominated
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special Won
Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special Mos Def Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special Gabrielle Union Nominated
NAMIC Vision Awards Best Drama Nominated
Best Dramatic Performance Mos Def Nominated
Peabody Awards Cort/Madden Productions
in association with HBO Films
Producers Guild of America Awards David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television Robert W. Cort, David Madden,
Mike Drake, and Eric Hetzel
Satellite Awards Best Motion Picture Made for Television Nominated
Best Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Mos Def Nominated
Alan Rickman Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or
Motion Picture Made for Television
Mary Stuart Masterson Nominated
Television Critics Association Awards Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Long Form – Original Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell Won

See also

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