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Bob Marley: One Love Celebrates the Enduring Power of Love and Legacy

Director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s latest biopic finds its rhythm as a captivating retelling of the Jamaican reggae legend's epic tale.

by Ozioma Nwabuikwu

I’m not sure when I first heard Bob Marley’s music, but it might’ve been in the movie Shark Tale, which featured a “Three Little Birds” cover by Sean Paul and Ziggy Marley; or perhaps it was through my father’s abiding love for the most famous reggae artist. Either way, Bob Marley’s greatness has always been as ubiquitous as it is unquestionable that I’ve been a passive fan of his who got most of my knowledge from my parents’ nostalgic stories, so I was excited to experience a new retelling which had so much support from his friends, family members, and collaborators. Bob Marley: One Love not only opened my eyes to how much of a revolutionary he was, it also taught me the enduring power of love and legacy. 

This biopic is not a stereotypical ‘cradle to grave’ story. It follows a crucial two-year period from 1976 to 1977 in which Bob Marley headlines not one but two peace concerts in Jamaica amid political instability and violence: Smile Jamaica (1976) and the One Love peace concert (1977). Before, after and in between, he faces intense pushback, including an attempted assassination two days before his Smile Jamaica performance. As a result, he self-exiled to London along with his band, The Wailers, where he began to experiment sonically. The result is the legendary project, Exodus, which TIME named one of the greatest albums of the 20th century.

Director Reinaldo Marcus Green, known for his Oscar-winning biopic King Richard, tells RANGE about his decision to focus on these years as a snapshot into Marley’s life: “You can spend two hours getting to know [Marley], as opposed to trying to jam too much in.”

Since the depth of detail in this retelling is astounding, recognizing the work of those behind it is just as important as appreciating the performances on screen. Kingsley Ben-Adir’s casting as Bob Marley came after more than a year of searching—and after watching the film, it’s clear why the search was so thorough. The actor was relentless in his pursuit of perfection, just like the great man he portrays. “They say Bob didn’t sleep, he rested his eyes. I felt the same from Kingsley,” says Green. 

Ben-Adir shines both literally and figuratively due to the outstanding work of the late Neville Garrick, Marley’s real-life artistic director and long-time friend, who was in charge of stage lighting and many of Bob Marley and The Wailers’ album covers. Ben-Adir rarely sings live in the film, but the energy of the concert scenes is palpable as he moves through the music and vice versa. Green and Ben-Adir also made sure Marley’s musical prowess from a technical standpoint wasn’t lost, as Ben-Adir learnt to play the guitar with Marley’s specific techniques. “You can be a great musician but it doesn’t just fall out of the sky, it’s because Bob worked at it, he worked at being great,” Green says. 

Kingsley Ben-Adir as “Bob Marley” and Director Reinaldo Marcus Green in Bob Marley: One Love from Paramount Pictures.

Almost every scene in Bob Marley: One Love is marked by this fact: Bob Marley’s true loves were his family and the people of Jamaica. Everything he did, he did for them. Marley is no stranger to turmoil in Jamaica, but we also see him experience immense joy and peace, especially while in nature and while bonding with the community through music and charity. Since his passing, his family and the people of Jamaica have continued to carry that mantle whenever possibleand this film is no different. 

Filming in Jamaica with a large crew was no easy task. The production team strove  to portray Jamaica authentically while being mindful of the Jamaican people, many of whom they employed both behind and in front of the camera. “I felt like we had an entire nation helping to support us to make sure we got it right; they were not about to let us fail,” says Green. The cast and crew were also held up by the Marley family and consequently, immersed in Marley’s history, spirituality and legacy. For example, Marley’s son, Ziggy, was on set every day of production working closely with Green.

Marley is diagnosed with melanoma in London, spurring him to return to Jamaica to try and broker peace through the One Love concert, the urgency of his message now clearer than ever. His wife, Rita, played by Lashana Lynch, tells him, “Sometimes the man has to become the message.” So that’s what he did. But the movie shows us he had other sides to him. “It was important to show Bob as a man, as a husband, as a father, and as a fully realized character,” Green explains. 

Kinglsey Ben-Adir as “Bob Marley” in Bob Marley: One Love from Paramount Pictures.

We see that Marley loved his family, community and even those who wronged himbut he also wasn’t the happy-go-lucky character we might associate him with. He was a revolutionary who stood in the face of danger to strongly oppose unequal systems still present today, and even certain Rastafarian principles which dissuaded involvement in politics. His more pacifist songs like “Three Little Birds” are strongly associated with his legacy while his more provocative tunes on human rights like “Get Up, Stand Up” are not played as much. But it’s hard to discount his powerful message of love. On-screen, we see Rita become his tether when he gets consumed with the failings of the world, by reminding him of his heart. 

Bob Marley: One Love will undoubtedly attract new Marley fans, or in my case, rekindle them. I wanted to see more of his early life on screen, but I understand the choice to focus on the period they did, because those two concerts were true tests of Marley’s convictions. Anyone who has been marginalized or feels dismayed at the state of the world will relate. My first instinct is to be sad that his life was cut short so early, but that would be a distraction from Marley’s intent. His life itself wasn’t more important to him than the change he hoped to accomplish with it. I know that my time is better spent in action, remembering that he didn’t just want us to love, he also wanted us to fight for each other, against all odds.