Kelvin Harrison Jr. has signed on to play American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in a biopic titled Samo Lives. The film will reunite him with director Julius Onah, who previously directed Harrison in fascinating drama Luce, which garnered the duo Best Male Lead and Best Director nominations at the 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Endeavor Content are financing the project, which will celebrate the life, career and impact of the groundbreaking New York-born, Haitian-Puerto Rican American artist whose seminal paintings and street art defined the Neo-expressionism arts movement of the 1980s.
In 1983, Basquiat became the youngest artist to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in New York at just 22 years old. He sadly died on August 12, 1988 at the age of 27, but his work continues to make a great impact on the art world. At a 2017 Sotheby’s auction, a Basquiat painting sold for $110.5 million, becoming one of the most expensive paintings ever purchased.
Onah is also co-writing the script alongside Peter Glanz (Polite Society), and explained his vision for the project in a statement: “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.”
While there have been other Basquiat projects, Samo Lives will notably be the first film about the artist envisioned by a Black filmmaker. Onah and Harrison will also produce in various capacities alongside the producing team that also worked on Luce – John Baker, Rob Feng, and Eric Ro.
Since breaking out in Luce, Harrison has appeared in other high-profile films such as Waves, The Photograph, and The Trial Of The Chicago 7. He can currently be seen in musical Cyrano, while he’s also playing B.B. King in Baz Luhrmann‘s upcoming Elvis biopic.
We’ve already seen what Harrison and Onah can do together with Luce, so it will be exciting to see them take the next step in their careers and highlight one of the great artists of the late 20th century. Samo Lives is expected to begin production in the autumn.