The storied rise and fall of Jean-Michel Basquiat is headed for a new rendering on the silver screen, according to Variety. Under the title Samo Lives (citing the mantle that Basquiat used as a mysterious graffiti tag on the streets of New York), the biopic is being developed and financed by Endeavor Content and director Julius Onah, whose credits include 2015’s The Girl Is in Trouble (a name-making debut produced by Spike Lee), 2018’s The Cloverfield Paradox (produced by J. J. Abrams), and 2019’s Luce.
That most recent film starred Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Tim Roth—as well as Kelvin Harrison Jr., who has signed on to rejoin Onah and play the role of one of the most romanticized and revered contemporary artists in America or anywhere else.
In an extensive director’s statement on a website for Samo Lives, Onah writes, “Simply put, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work and life has been an absolute inspiration. When I began to learn about him at the age of 14 it was incredible to discover someone who boldly forged his own path into a world where most who didn’t fit the expected profile of a fine artist had been unable to (i.e. white and male). Though I could not yet fully appreciate the enormity of what Jean-Michel’s achievements meant, I could certainly feel there was something so groundbreaking and unique about them.”
He goes on to attribute part of his learning about the artist to the 1996 biographical film Basquiat, directed by painter Julian Schnabel. “But the older I got and the more I learned about Jean-Michel,” Onah writes, “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.”
Filming is expected to being in the fall. The movie will also feature a soundtrack by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, who together composed notable scores for Annihilation, Ex Machina, and Free Fire.
When it first flickers on a screen, Samo Lives will join other cinematic treatments of the art star’s life including Schnabel’s Basquiat (which featured Jeffrey Wright as the artist and David Bowie as his latter-day collaborator Andy Warhol) and Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, a documentary by his friend Tamra Davis from 2010. Fans of Basquiat are also required to watch Downtown 81, a simultaneously awful and awe-inspiring movie that stars Basquiat himself as an artist making his way around the fertile interdisciplinary art/music/etc. scene of the East Village in its heyday.