His songs were catchy, spiritual and socially engaged. The famous pioneer of the reggae genre, Bob Marley, is commemorated in a new biographical film, which will also be shown in Czech cinemas this month. Relatives hope to revive the singer’s legacy more than 40 years after his death.
The film, titled Bob Marley: One Love, was produced by 77-year-old widow Rita Marley with their children Ziggy and Cedella Marley, who are both musicians. Hollywood star Brad Pitt became the executive producer of the project. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, author of the drama King Richard: Birth of a Champion, for which Will Smith won an Oscar. Bob Marley and his wife Rita were portrayed by British actors Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch.
“We made the film mainly to spread its message through another medium, so that it reaches the next generation. It’s a film with a positive idea,” said Ziggy Marley, whom Czech audiences know from his performance at the Colors of festival, at the London premiere on Tuesday. Ostrava or in Prague’s Arš.
Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley and Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley. | Photo: Chiabella James
The film maps two years in the life of the musician, who was born in 1945 and became famous with the hits No Woman, No Cry, Jamming and I Shot the Sheriff alongside the band The Wailers. At the same time, reggae became more widely known as a lifestyle that originally promoted a peaceful revolution in a country with a violent history and over time became a general synonym in the West for love, peace, togetherness, positive thinking or frequent use of marijuana.
The story begins in the Jamaican capital of Kingston in 1976, when an idealistic singer decides to organize a peace concert called Smile Jamaica. On his native island, not long before the elections, he has to unite a society divided by increasing violence, attacks by street gangs and animosity between supporters of the government and the opposition.
However, Marley’s appeal will be supported by the Jamaican Ministry of Culture, and so the concert will begin to be seen as support for one of the two feuding parties. Two days before the performance, seven armed men break into Marley’s house. His wife Rita is shot in the head, the singer is slightly injured. Nevertheless, the concert will take place and Marley will sing in front of an estimated 80,000 people, even though he does not play the guitar due to injury.
On the left is Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley. | Photo: Chiabella James
Because of the assassination, he and his wife move to Great Britain for the next two years. It was there that Marley recorded the successful album Exodus, which stayed in the British charts for more than a year. Flashbacks from this time in the film return to his childhood and adolescence. Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981, he was 36 years old.
Already in the late 1980s, there were plans for a feature film about his life. In the new millennium, directors Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone, who bought the rights to the autobiographical book of Marley’s widow, tried again. But none of them succeeded. Rita Marley told reporters back in 2008 that she wanted rapper and singer Lauryn Hill to play her. That didn’t happen either.
In the news, the hero was played by 37-year-old Kingsley Ben-Adir, who drew attention to himself with the role of American human rights activist Malcolm X in the movie Night in Miami or as President Barack Obama in the animated series The Comey Rule. He last portrayed one of the Kens in last summer’s hit Barbie.
It was during his filming in the British Leavesden that he was preparing for the role of Bob Marley, which he completely rejected the first time. Acquiring his gestures and accent, including patois, which is a form of English and the dialect used in Jamaica, seemed unrealistic to him. He thought he just didn’t have it, he admitted to the BBC.
“You can’t imitate him or copy him, he didn’t have anything like concert choreography that you could learn. It took me a while to understand where Bob was most vulnerable. Because he was both a tough guy and a gentleman. He played in so many colors,” says the actor.
He studied dozens of tapes of Marley’s interviews with experts. He then worked with linguists to faithfully translate the lines from the English script into patois. “You can listen to Bob for two hours, but if you’re not from Jamaica, you’re just not going to understand everything he’s saying. I didn’t understand everything either,” he admits.
Ben-Adir had no experience in music before filming. He could not dance, sing or act. “I don’t know any instrument, so I had to learn everything about music,” he says, describing how he was learning the basics of playing the guitar until he cut his fingers to blood on the strings.
At one point, the actor even tried to compose his own songs on the set, just to understand what it felt like.
“Marley was very competitive. He would get up at like four or five in the morning, pick up his guitar and start composing. He liked how his voice was so cracked in the morning. Then he would devote himself to music all day, maybe go play football during the break, and finally he was again until two in the morning in the studio,” explains the actor.
He also tried to imitate Marley’s diligence in preparing for the role. “I worked on it whenever I had a break at Mojo Dojo Casa,” the actor concludes, referring to the sets of Ken’s house in the Barbie movie.