It is an honor to speak about the documentary of this life story that is bigger than life. I had had only 2hrs sleep ! for 2 nights in a row and was so afraid I would nod off (regardless of the film I was about to see) that I brought a whole thermos of espresso and a chocolate bar. But I found myself riveted to my seat while being raised to a higher level of humanity and basking in the glow of this beautiful, brilliant, dramatic woman overflowing with pride, grace, indefatigability, anger, compassion, and clear-eyed philosophy --and prone to outrageous laughter.
I never opened the thermos or the wrapper--what I needed was a hanky or a tighter belt (so as not to bust a seam laughing) for this moving portrayal of Ms. Richards exemplary life of activism and art and pluck. Though some may mainly remember her portrayal of the mother of Sidney Poitier's character in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", this is truly a life story crying to be heard and we are so fortunate for Ms. Hamilton's sensitive portrayal. Quite fortunate indeed, as tragically, this film was almost not made. The project was begun less than a year before Ms. Richard's sole defeat in life--to emphysema at the age of 80. Prior to that was a string of victories that would not be denied. Virtually any aspect of life or art Mr. Richards set her sights on was reached. At only 17 years of age, and from humble origins in Vicksburg, Mississippi, she composed one of the most moving poetic tributes you're ever likely to hear--to the legendary Paul Robeson--and she had the opportunity to read it to him when they met years later.
After seeing one of her first recognized virtuoso acting performances in New York, Marlon Brando was quoted as saying "I should tear up my [acting] equity card--that woman is a genius!" And only days before she died, Ms. Richards received her 3rd Emmy award for a role in the TV series "The Practice."
And yet for me, the most powerful, tour de force performance was Beah Richards as... Beah Richards. Don't be fooled by the appearance of a nearly bed-bound 80-year old woman with oxygen tubing under her nose; this woman is a lion, ready to roar to life in her vivid recollections, a fierce poet-warrior staking out sharp, penetrating assertions and a wizened shaman revealing wisdoms and twinkling sly insights gleaned from a life fully realized.
This is one of the most moving pieces of filmmaking I can think of, made all the more impressive by the fact that the most memorable scenes are just Ms. Richards facing off against her invisible audience behind the camera--from her bed, tethered to oxygen tanks, and reaching through the screen, grabbing you by your collar and with one mighty "360-degree phrase"--electrifying your mind with her spirit... infusing hope into your heart... and breathing life into your very soul.
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