Picks and Pans Review: Beah: A Black Woman Speaks

UPDATED 03/01/2004 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/01/2004 at 01:00 AM EST

HBO (Wed., Feb. 25, 7:30 p.m. ET)

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Lisa Gay Hamilton (formerly of The Practice) didn't really get to know Beah Richards in 1997 when the two actresses worked on the movie Beloved. At the time, Hamilton found her intimidating. But a couple of years later Hamilton heard that Richards was seriously ill with emphysema, so she began regularly visiting the octogenarian, who died in 2000. Out of their friendship came this extraordinary documentary, in which director-interviewer Hamilton helps a failing but still formidable Richards pass on her philosophy of acting as "being" and her memories of a life committed to artistic integrity and racial equality.

Richards can indeed be a bit intimidating when she takes her ancient-sage tone, but her laughter encourages us to come closer and partake of her wisdom. Clips of her work—including an Oscar-nominated performance in 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and an Emmy-winning turn on The Practice several months before her death—show Richards's combination of emotional honesty and almost queenly dignity. Hamilton's film captures the subject's inextinguishable spirit.

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