Forthcoming Basquiat Movie Aims to Tell Story of His ‘Incredible Life As a Black Artist and Child of the Immigrant African Diaspora

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Jean-Michel Basquiat with Andy Warhol at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1985. ASSOCIATED PRESS

According to Variety, the legendary rise and fall of Jean-Michel Basquiat are about to be reinterpreted on the silver screen. The biopic, titled Samo Lives (referring to the robe Basquiat used as a mysterious graffiti tag on the streets of New York) is being developed and funded by Endeavor Content and directed by Julius Onach, whose credits include the 2015 film A Girl in Need (debut film produced by Spike Lee), 2018’s Cloverfield Paradox (produced by JJ Abrams) and 2019’s Luce.

This latest movie about Jean-Michael Basquiat starred Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Tim Roth, as well as Calvin Harrison Jr., who agreed to join and play the role of one of the most romanticized and revered contemporary artists in America or anywhere else.

In an extensive statement on the Samo Lives website, the director writes that the work and life of Jean-Michel Basquiat have been an absolute inspiration. It was incredible to find someone who boldly forged his own path into a world where most of those who didn’t fit the expected profile of a fine artist was unable to do so. Even without being able to appreciate the enormity of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s achievements, one definitely feels that there is something revolutionary and unique in them.

JEAN MICHEL BASQUIAT by Thomas Dellert (2020)

He further attributes some of his knowledge of the artist to the 1996 movie about Jean-Michael Basquiat, directed by artist Julian Schnabel. “But the more I learned about Jean-Michel,” Onah writes, “the more I began to feel that his story Jean-Michael Basquiat was not fully told in the cinema. We have never seen the full spectrum of Basquiat’s incredible life as a black artist and child of an immigrant African diaspora.”

The filming of a movie about Jean-Michael Basquiat is expected to take place in the fall. The film will also feature a soundtrack by Portishead’s Jeff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, who together wrote outstanding scores for Annihilation, Ex Machina and Free Fire.

When the movie about Jean-Michael Basquiat first hits the screen, Samo Lives will join other cinematic interpretations of the art star’s life, including Schnabel’s Basquiat (which featured Jeffrey Wright as the artist and David Bowie as his recent collaborator Andy Warhol) and Jean-Michel Basquiat: Radiant Child, a 2010 documentary by his girlfriend Tamra Davis.

Downtown 81

Basquiat fans also must-see Downtown 81, a film that is both horrific and awe-inspiring, in which Basquiat himself plays an artist poking his way through the prolific, interdisciplinary art/music/etc scene of the East Village during its heyday.

Downtown 81 is a film starring the legendary American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988).  In 1982, he met Andy Warhol and they created many collaborations together, influencing each other’s work, until Warhol’s death in 1987.

The film Downtown 81 depicts a day in the life of a young artist who needs to raise money to quickly solve a housing problem before he is evicted. He wanders around the city center with a painting at the ready, wanting to sell it. Along the way, he runs into his friends and finally sells the painting to a certain rich woman. He forgets about the problem of eviction and squanders money at parties, moving from club to club in search of one beautiful girl he has met earlier and plans to spend the night with. After all, he still has a place to sleep.

The ready-to-release movie, directed by Edo Bertoglio and written by Glenn O’Brien, remained unreleased on the shelf by the mid-80s due to financial problems. And, only in the 99th year (already after the death of Basquiat), when the rights to the tape were restored, the producers still managed to resurrect the film and, moreover, show it at Cannes a year later. Downtown 81 is without a doubt a rare realistic shot of Manhattan during the post-punk period of the early 80s.

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