In the film “Radiant Child” Jean-Michel
Basquiat displays similar characteristics as the “genius child” in the poem by Langston
Hughes. Through his neo-expressionist artwork, Basquiat had the power of a
genius to upset, transform and revolutionize. As
the poem “Genius Child” by Langston Hughes conveys, such intelligence and power
coming from a young black mind is considered dangerous in a very white
conformist world. The genius child in the poem is compared to an eagle
and a monster, demonstrating that his ability to think outside the box poses a
potential threat to society. Similarly, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s artistic
individuality and unapologetically revelatory and defiant work is feared and
misunderstood by the conformists of society. Basquiat
had a capacity to create new meaning through innovation and establish power by
subverting the rules of an oppressor: “I cross out words so you will see
them more: the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.” Basquiat’s genius characteristics is unsettling to many
as presented in the poem by Hughes: “nobody loves a genius child” (Hughes, In. 3).
As a black man in a white world, Basquiat was commonly relegated to the
position of “wild” artist. Despite his genius ability to convey messages
through his art, he was constantly set apart and
fictionalized, designated a “primitive”. As Basquiat mentions in the
film “Radiant Child”, most of his reviews and critics on his work were about
his personality. He was imprisoned by the condemnation of the dominant white conformist
culture. The last line of Hughes’ poem seems to present a conformist
attitude towards individualists such as Basquiat: society is better off without
defiant people like Jean-Michel Basquiat in order to maintain control and
conformity. By terminating himself, Basquiat freed himself from the expectations
of society and “let his soul run wild. In sum, Basquiat’s rebellious and innovative
personality reflects the one of the genius child in Hughes’s poem, who constitutes
a threat to the strict moral confines of the world.