Endeavor Content has just announced Kelvin Harrison Jr. (The Lion King Prequel ) will be portraying the legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in the biopic Samo Lives, which will be penned, directed and produced by Julius Onah. Kelvin Harrison Jr. will be reuniting with the Luce writer and director. “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,” the filmmaker wrote.
Basquiat’s life was a journey, from his humble multi-national NYC upbringing, his ignition and reigning of the 80s Neo-expressionism movement, his sky-rocketing rise in the international art world, to his posthumous record-setting sales (Basquiat’s ‘Untitled’ (1982), a powerful depiction of a black skull with red and yellow rivulets, sold for $110.5 million in 2017. It is the most ever paid for an American artwork and the sixth most expensive artwork sold at an auction), and his untimely death has inspired millions, including Julius Onah.
“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,” Onah wrote on his website. “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,” Onah continued. “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.”
Julian Schnabel’s (Miral) star-studded biopic, Basquiat, is considered one of the director’s most controversial and questioned, as he was a painter alongside the subject of the biopic. The cast boasts Jeffrey Wright (The Batman) as Basquiat while David Bowie plays Basquiat’s friend and mentor, Andy Warhol. Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Benicio del Toro, Michael Wincott, Parker Posey, Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Claire Forlani, Courtney Love, and Tatum O’Neal. Even Sam Rockwell and Vincent Gallo would color the landscape of the film. Schnabel’s depiction and focus on himself (a loosely-veiled character played by Gary Oldman) was criticized by filmgoers, as well as the members of the New York art scene. Schnabel received further criticism for showcasing his own paintings throughout the film, and because the Basquiat estate refused to allow any original works to be used, Schnabel painted the imitations himself. Julius Onah’s upcoming offering will give the audience an entirely new perspective in physical distance and the wisdom and hindsight that decades of time allow.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. recently wrapped on Baz Luhrmann’s Untitled Elvis Presley project, starring alongside Tom Hanks, Austin Butler, Olivia DeJonge, Yola Quartey, Luke Bracey, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Dacre Montgomery, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh and David Wenham, where he portrayed legendary King of Blues, B.B. King. Currently, Kelvin Harrison Jr. is voicing Scar in the untitled Lion King prequel.