SAMO LIVES, a provocative film celebrating the origins and far-reaching legacy of the iconic artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, will be developed and financed by the global film and television studio Endeavor Content. Production is expected to begin in fall 2022.

Directed and produced by Julius Onah (Luce), SAMO LIVES will see Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (Cyrano, Waves) star in the lead role. The film reunites the director and actor for the first time since the critically acclaimed Independent Spirit Award-nominated film Luce. The biopic will highlight the creative genius of Basquiat, whose life, like his art, was vivid, complex, and punctuated by the influence of jazz, bebop, and hip-hop’s formative years. The film also explores the work of the Haitian-Puerto Rican American artist in regard to the intersectionality of race, class, power, and politics.

Basquiat’s impact and relevance is still felt 33 years after his untimely death at 27. His New York-based street art and imaginative paintings defined the Neo-expressionism arts movement in the 1980s and His work still draws attention in the art world. At 22, Basquiat was the youngest to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in New York in 1983. At a Sotheby’s auction in 2017 his painting Untitled sold for $110.5 million, becoming one of the most expensive paintings ever purchased. It also raised the bar for an American artist at auction. 

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Onah, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Glanz (The Longest Week, Polite Society), brings a fresh voice to illuminate the depths of the life of the most important Black visual artist of the 20th century. With Onah’s vision leading SAMO LIVES, it marks the first time a Basquiat film has ever been envisioned by a Black filmmaker.

“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,” said Onah. “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.”

“And with Jean-Michel that presence only grows stronger and more meaningful,” Onah added. “But this also reflects on the ultimate intent of telling his story: to focus on the inspirational power of his life.”