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Bob Marley, ONE LOVE film: on Love, Legacy and Waiting in Vain

One Love Poster at Paramount Premiere- Pic by Danae Peart

The long awaited and somewhat controversy laden Bob Marley, One Love film has officially launched with a Feb.14th/Valentine’s Day takeover. Perhaps it’s best to tell you from the outset that this is not a complete biopic and maybe even better to explain that this is deliberately a Love Letter to Rita Marley from her children.

The lead up to this film has been intriguing from as far back as the One Love immersive experience which originated in the UK and which I had a chance to visit in Toronto. Priming potential audiences with curated Bob Marley content has been a smart marketing approach even at Monday’s premier there were sample Bob Marley keurigs for patrons.

The “One Love” is the message according to son and one of the film producers Ziggy. He states that the aim is to “immortalize the message of one Love”. Based on recent social media barbs between Ziggy, Cedella and Bob’s famous “Miss World” mistress Cindy Breakspeare (Canadian Jamaican), we can tell there is a brewing battle royal about who is Bob’s one/singular/true Love. Based on the depiction of the love story you will come to accept that Rita is the one. Additionally you may probe whose story gets elevated in a “biopic” presented with great creative influence from specific children?…yes man “Matey ah alibutton” in this one.

However, to get back to the movie the aim seems to be how to make a legend’s legacy solidified in the annals of celluloid? Well apparently, you have to tap into the non-descript, colourblind, loving and “Bohemian Bob”. In this “all we need is love” universe with “one love one heart let’s get together and feel alright” all the troubles of the world apparently dissipate with a smile and a song.

Let’s First Address what the moviemakers and producers got right.

  1. Filming parts in Jamaica and hiring Jamaican extras. Jamaica as Sir Ian Fleming knew; makes for an awe-inspiring backdrop. No soundstage required if you wish to get lost in the natural beauty and picturesque landscapes and concrete jungles and if you wish to recreate the excitement of the concerts.


  1. The details of the two main “events”, that is, Bob getting shot and the Smile Jamaica concert 2 days later. I’ll also give some points to the snippet that is the One Love concert after his return to Jamaica post Exodus album. By all accounts these seem to have gone as portrayed with mild omissions.


  1. Elevating Rita (Bob’s widow). There are moments here which seem handpicked by Rita’s two children who are also Executive Producers through Tuff Gong Films. Moments which speak to the bond that Bob and Rita shared. Given that both were unfaithful in the marriage it’s good to see their love depicted as warm and supportive. It is not lost on us movie goers that the deliberate release date of Valentine’s Day (Feb 14) versus on Bob’s Birthday (Feb 6) was to remind us about the theme and title “One Love” more about the Love and certainly less about the song. Rita gets to no longer languish in vain waiting around for Bob’s love but instead is depicted with reasoned agency, capturing Bob’s genuine concern and respect and having almost excusable indiscretions.

For me these are areas that are misses:

  1. Not using a Jamaican actor/person to play Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley. Given that Biopics are make or break endeavours I do not buy the narrative that no “suitable” Jamaican could be found for the lead role (I can name 4 off the top- Sheldon “Don” Shepherd, Khadeem “Kenzic” Wilson, Dale Elliot Jr. Joel Miller). To be clear I didn’t need it to be his sons or grand kids (Skip Marley comes to mind) especially if they cannot act but I am sure there are registered, qualified, awarded Jamaican actors who could do justice to the role and capture most importantly the essence of Bob Marley. It is clear if you embody the character, you will get accolades and if you don’t then years later someone will make another version. Further I wish we could properly explain that Bob Marley is the icon/star/leading man, not any actor who does this role. An icon should be an honour for anyone to play and do justice to as this role could “make” the actor. An opportunity for authenticity was MISSED again. But this is Hollywood (e.g. Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. have been played by non-African Americans and we have twice seen Nelson Mandela played by non-south Africans and leading man extraordinaire Denzel has played Steven Biko). Here the producers and Paramount are hoping for Awards buzz and leaning on the actors to sell the box office rather than the icon himself. The potential damage here is a blow to Jamaica actors who will watch as two of Jamaica’s biggest icons are played by non-Jamaicans (Marcus Garvey film coming soon), actors who have less chances at boosting their resume and IMDB which is a disadvantage in casting and leaves them waiting in vain for a welcoming industry.


  1. Not revering Bob’s “Berhane Sellasie’s” connection to Rastafari. Having a “bald head” don a rasta wig and toss out some of Bob’s cool phrases randomly, does not a rasta make. A very missed opportunity here given how intertwined Bob’s identity is with Rastafari. In fact, he is the most famous Rasta the world knows. I never met him, but I can intimate that the treatment of Rasta in this project would have caused his ire. The spiritual almost trance-like performance of Bob at the Smile Jamaica concert was reduced to an awkward dance. The showcase of rastafari relegated to a random drumming session and a “wise” dialogue moment and let’s not forget the disconnected incorporation of HAILE Selassie.


  1. “Language is also a place of struggle”-bell hooks the accents and patois. It is very clear in the movie who are non-native speakers of patois. While one of our most respected Jamaican broadcasters and speech coaches-Fae Ellington and the team from the Jamaica Language Unit at the University of the West Indies were on the job to get the leads up to par …it as I expected fell short. To be honest I am not sure what others heard as they now gush that “di bredda from Inglan do ah good job man” and perhaps because we are so used to non-Jamaicans playing us in TV and Film our ears and cringe meter has adjusted. What I heard though was a lot of overemphasis in the words that were wins for the actors and all out giving up on others. Whenever it is dialogue of a sentence or more the fumble is obvious. This means nothing to you if you do not value language with identity, authenticity and with power and persuasion. For me a little bit of my identity is being toyed with for each character that diminishes the nuance, the dialect, the idiosyncrasies, lilt and style of delivery that makes patois and its native speakers uniquely Jamaican. The Bob the world reveres already made concessions in his music but was unapologetic and definitely unpolished/raw in everyday conversation. We have too many actual pieces of content from Bob to not hear the difference. *To be fair I have heard worse on a lead, and I have had to appreciate that his technique was to sit in a Tenor/Baritone timbre to hold on to the accent and phrasings he learned.


  1. Pandering to a specific gaze (the white gaze or otherwise called the masses)…this pristine, pretty-boy Bob, whose face has not been weathered by a hard life, and ghetto struggles, who speaks with an odd accent, amidst bright colours in a period that was actually emerging out of deep political and economic struggle is idyllic and fantastical. Heck this “Bohemian Bob” does not appear iconic but rather very palatable. The global backdrop here is very interesting at a time when there are so many wars and refugee crisis this choice of One Love, don’t worry about a thing etc. and the softening of Bob’s image is fascinating. Bob wasn’t born in some flower power, flip-flop wearing haven he was rejected by his dad and grew up in Jamaica’s inner cities-Trenchtown specifically. Bob being a revolutionary thinker and an anti-systems and anti-isms messenger is also the Bob we needed in this time. Sadly, film as a medium either wants a “magical negro” trope or one that meets with negative stereotypes. That this Bob was a middle ground gives some reprieve. The full authentic Bob was way more layered than this interpretation. He was not about absolving power structures, but he is not the storyteller here.


  1. Technical inaccuracies which may feed the agenda of the movie makers. Coxsone portrayed as some kinda bad man/gunman producer during the “Simmer Down” recoding era. Bob playing “Turn your lights down low” for Rita when Rita herself has said in interviews that song was written about Cindy, and she tried to avoid even doing background vocals on it. Also, it was a bit obvious that Kingsley was lip synching throughout the film.


  1. Situating a Why for the film! By sanitizing Bob Marley for the masses there emerges only a collage of Bob in the film. Bob’s appeal was always his connection to the common person. He was an unpolished raw patio speaker who never paused his speech to worry about whether you understood every word, a politically radical thinker, an anti-system rebel and self described revolutionary (“revolution of the mind”). If the aim is solidifying legacy the movie falls short… we are not drawn to galvanize around any substantive aspect of Bob. Rastafari gets but a glimpse, rebel/radical is not seen, omitting his actual death and funeral (which to date was one of the largest funerals in Jamaica) means there is no emotional resonance with an icon lost, we can say great artist, but it was a glimpse and the rest we have to infer. Actually, I kept asking after… what does the movie want from me or its audience? If you knew Bob, did you learn anything? If you didn’t know Bob who or what is he now? If it were a biopic the audience would have understood the circumstances which weathered him, the lead character would also have morphed more with some scripting meat on the bones. This is perhaps a hint that those of us who are too entrenched in ascribing a certain meaning to Bob are not the target audience.

For me the star of the film was Bob’s music which was luckily interspersed throughout and at some scenes very poignant lyrics would play. I also really appreciated the uncanny resemblance of Jamaican artist and new actor Quan-Dajai Henriques to the early/young adult Bob. His moments on screen were endearing. While I was no fan of Lashana’s patois I must say she held her own. She allowed for us to get emotionally attached to the strong, supportive and legacy protector Rita. I do expect Kingsley will get some praise for this role though I am not sure how the accolades will play out so far away from award season. I was pleased to see the actual work he put in to learn and to represent an icon who he weighed more than (he was 40lbs heavier at casting) and is taller than (he is 6’2 and Bob is 5”6). Despite his height his interpretation of Bob was not large enough for me…he didn’t disappear, and morph and he didn’t nail the nuances.

Everybody should watch it for themselves if they are curious. Mi genuinely want dem fi mek back dem money but mi wi sleep okay knowing they trusted a non-Jamaican to anchor the relay suh collect whichever medal the world gives yuh. My opinions are unpopular in a world where we are used to Likkle and nuttn and wi always glad fi something.

I will not take away from those who are expressing pride in seeing our cultural icon and “prophet” to many get a Hollywood movie. The little that was offered actually is sufficient for many. I have mild worry about the overall success of the film in North America. UK and other parts of Europe should love this film!! I have some concern that it may not make it to the top ten lists of biopics but willing to be proven wrong. I am hopeful that all Bob memorabilia will fly off virtual shelves, and that the family earns from these sales, and that reggae in general will get a boost. I am counting on tourism in Jamaica to benefit as well. I trust every possible Bob synergy will be launched ASAP and I know Spotify will reflect the success of the film and it’s marketing. I really hope the family is pleased with the outcome of this film treatment and that the Bob they presented is Loved “I don’t wanna wait in vain for your Love”—Bob Marley


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