By Ayodele Jabbaar
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This article is over 12 years, 2 months old
Director Kevin MacDonald
Release date: out now
Issue 369

Marley is a detailed tribute to the international music icon Bob Marley.

Opening with an African slave embarkation port in Ghana, West Africa, the story chronicles Marley’s move from obscure St Ann, to his rise through the Jamaican music charts to become an international reggae superstar, ending with his final weeks in a Bavarian clinic in 1981. The film shows Marley’s life in the difficult streets of Trench Town, seeking out a better living among the urban poor, his conversion to Rastafarianism and the breakup of the original Wailers group.

Director Kevin MacDonald places Marley’s story in the context of postcolonial Jamaica – a society attempting to cope with constant economic deprivation and political violence. In the process we see Marley trying to keep above the tussle of party politics while grappling with his own political and religious beliefs. He is portrayed as someone committed to peace.

Marley was the product of an interracial relationship between a white man, Norval Marley (a plantation overseer), and an African-Jamaican woman called Cedella Booker. The film illustrates how Marley’s upbringing shaped his identity. For instance, Marley wrote the song “CornerStone” in response to being rejected by his father’s family: “The stone that the builder refused/Will always be the head cornerstone.”

The final quarter of the film reminds us of Marley’s global popularity, as he played to sold-out audiences in Europe, the US and Zimbabwe during its 1980 independence celebrations. It also shows his bewilderment at not initially capturing the attention of an African-American audience, even though his music carried a message of black empowerment.

While Marley’s passion for football is shown, there is little exposition of his songwriting technique and no mention of albums as important to the history of reggae as Burnin’ and Survival. Despite the film’s attempts to remove myths surrounding Marley, it does not focus enough on his politics, a minor examination of which reveals a man who articulated the need for deep revolutionary change.

Perhaps the real pleasure of this compelling and reflective film is that Marley, who promoted the spirit of love and peace publicly through his songs, was no hypocrite and embodied those same values in private, a fact affirmed by the smiles, laughter and tears welling up in the eyes of those closest to him as they recall his life.

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