A new biopic of Jean-Michel Basquiat is in the works. Samo Lives will be the first time a Black director tells the late artist’s life. SAMO was the artist’s graffiti alias and paved the way for him as a street artist.
What we know
Look, it’s past time for a proper rendition of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s story. Julius Onah is going to film a biopic on the late New York artist’s life and career, featuring Cyrano star Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the lead role.
The film marks Harrison and Onah’s second collaboration, the two previously teamed on the drama Luce. Basquiat’s life story was originally depicted in a 1996 film, starring Jeffrey Wright, and directed by Julian Schnabel.
The initiative will honor the promising career of the Haitian-Puerto Rican-American artist, that was cruelly cut short. Basquiat’s paintings are considered some of the most essential works of the Neo-Expressionism movement of the 1980s, and he was a nightlife fixture of the time, mixing with high-profile New Yorkers, like Andy Warhol and Madonna.
At the age of 22, the artist became the youngest person ever to show at the Whitney Biennial, and he died only five years later. When his artwork Untitled sold for a whopping $110.5 million in 2017, it became one of the most expensive painting ever purchased—especially by an American artist.
Onah released a lengthy statement about his idea for the project on the Samo Lives website, noting his personal connection to the late artist as a crucial factor in his decision to take on the project:
“Jean-Michel Basquiat redefined the idea of who ascends to the highest altitudes of the fine art world. But the complexity and richness of his experience as an artist and child of the African diaspora has yet to be dramatized in the manner it deserves […] It’s an honor to work with Kelvin and my collaborators, and with Endeavor Content, to celebrate the legacy of an artist who has invited audiences everywhere to be inspired by the transformative power of art.
It was a gateway for a kid desperate to find artists he could see himself in. But the older I got and the more I learned about Jean-Michel, the more I began to feel his story hadn’t fully been told in cinema. Never have we seen the full spectrum of Basquiat’s incredible life as a Black artist and a child of the immigrant African diaspora. And the richness and nuance of his journey is a story worthy of celebration.”
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Photo via Henry Flynt