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Kelvin Harrison Jr. Cast as Jean-Michel Basquiat in Biopic 'Samo Lives'


Photo: Spencer Pazer

A new biopic about the life of late Brooklyn-born Haitian-Puerto Rican artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is in the works, in which Kelvin Harrison Jr. has been cast in the leading role. The film titled Samo Lives will be produced, written, and directed by Julius Onah with Endeavor Content financing the film Variety reports. Onah co-wrote the script with Peter Glanz.



Harrison will also serve as executive producer on the film. He previously worked with Onah on Luce, in which that project also included production team members John Baker, Rob Feng and Eric Ro. Harrison and Onah's collaboration on Luce garnered them both nominations at the 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards. Speaking on stepping into Basquiat's shoes in the film, Variety reported Harrison stated it was "a dream come true." "The sensitivity and soulfulness Kelvin will bring is the reason why I know the story I’m seeking to tell will truly honor Jean-Michel’s legacy,” Onah posted on the film's website SamoLives.com, in regards to Harrison taking on the role of Basquiat.


Although his life was cut short at the age of 27 in 1988, Basquiat's work and legacy have been celebrated over nearly the last thirty-four years in hip hop, fashion, art, and film. Basquiat has become one of the artists who helped define the Neo-Expressionism art movement through his artwork in the 1980s which Samo Lives will explore along with his life, according to Variety.


Photograph: Lizzie Himmel/AP/Brooklyn Museum

Onah's biopic about the late artist isn't the first about Basquiat. Julian Schnabel explored Jean Michel's life in the 1996 biopic Basquiat, which starred Jeffrey Wright in the title role. In statements posted on the biopic's website SamoLives.com and as reported by Variety, Onah shared his connection to Basquiat whom he became aware of at age 14 and the original biopic.


“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,” Onah shared on Samolives.com. Onah further expressed that no other film has previously explored the depth and impact of Basquiat's life and career like Samo Lives.


Onah's Samo Lives will also be the first Basquiat biopic created by a Black filmmaker. "Jean-Michel Basquiat redefined the idea of who ascends to the highest altitudes of the fine art world." Onah posted online.


The film is expected to begin production in the fall. Meanwhile, Harrison most recently starred as Christian in the Joe Wright-directed musical film Cyrano opposite Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett. He is also signed on to voice a young Scar in Barry Jenkins' prequel to the 2019 live-action The Lion King. Harrison will also star in another biopic as musician Chevalier

de Saint Georges in Searchlight Pictures' Chevalier.

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