One name: Bob Marley. One message: One love.
The music and legacy of the beloved late Reggae singer-songwriter truly capture the charisma, confidence, and consciousness of Jamaican culture. So, it’s no surprise that the name of one of Marley’s most commercially successful and inclusive songs was used in the title of the upcoming biopic, Bob Marley: One Love.
The first trailer dropped last Thursday (July 6) and immediately created a buzz among cinephiles and music lovers alike. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard), once again tackles a real-life rags-to-riches story with Kingsley Ben-Adir as the eponymous character. With the help of some facial hair and a dreadlock wig, the usually polished Barbie actor bares a surprising resemblance to Marley. The British actor also played Malcolm X in 2020’s One Night in Miami….
British-Jamaican actress Lashana Lynch (The Woman King) will portray Rita Marley, the singer’s wife, bandmate, and the mother of six of his 12 children. The biographical drama is scheduled for release in theaters on Jan. 12, 2024, by Paramount Pictures.
A Moving Trailer
The trailer opens with the feel-good hit, “Jamming,” as viewers get glimpses of the star playing soccer, recording music, performing live, giving interviews, and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mick Jagger. The movie is set and filmed in England and Jamaica, including Trench Town, the Kingston neighborhood where Marley was raised and the Wailers formed.
The teaser’s irie-inspired tone takes a dramatic turn as a slowed-down version of “Exodus” plays in the backdrop. Blacks and whites clash and relationship drama unfolds, including a tense face-off between Rita and the “Kinky Reggae” singer’s most well-known girlfriend Cindy Breakspeare. As we watch an assassination attempt on Marley’s life—believed to be politically motivated—we gain a deeper understanding of his thought-provoking lyrics and recurring themes of peace and unity.
“My life is not important to me. My life is for people,” he says with calm conviction.
Producers include Robert Teitel (Notorious), Jeremy Kleiner (Moonlight), Dede Gardner (If Beale Street Could Talk), and Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt incidentally spoke Jamaican Patois in what was luckily only one scene in Meet Joe Black. Marley’s estate was fully involved in the making of the movie with son Ziggy Marley, daughter Cedella Marley, and Rita all serving as producers.
“[T]he cast and crew represents one of the most unique creation to ever come out of a hollywood studio,” Ziggy recently shared on Instagram. “Authenticity fills the screen with numerous Jamaican actors doing us proud in representing the culture.”
The cast includes actors and singers from across the Caribbean diaspora. This includes Jamaican-British actor Michael Ward (Top Boy) and “Paradise Plum” singer Naomi Cowan as the “Queen of Reggae” Marcia Griffiths. Also included are Better Mus’ Come actor Sheldon Sheperd, and Aston Barrett Jr., the real-life son of the Wailers’ bass player who will play his father.
Many fans hoped that one of Marley’s seven sons or many grandsons would land the role of the family patriarch. Fans wished to bring his physical likeness and spirit to the role. While others argued that a Jamaican-born actor should be cast to ensure an authentic and accurate accent. As a result, the announcement of Ben-Adir (whose mother is Black Trinidadian and father is British Jewish) as the film’s lead, outraged some critics.
“There’s so many talented Jamaican actors that can play the role…Get a Jamaican actor. I’m not sitting down to a Bob Marley movie and hearing a fake accent. Kiss my exterior,” expressed Renzi, co-host of The Fix podcast after the news broke in February 2022. “I’m not going to go through Stella Got Her Groove Back again. Mi nah go tru dat again!”
The Jafakin Curse
The entertainment industry has a long history of “Jafakin.” Jafakin is speaking with fake—usually very bad—Jamaican accents in music, film, and TV. Even some of the most acclaimed actors have butchered Jamaican accents and Patois.
The list includes Denzel Washington in 1989’s The Mighty Quinn and Whoopi Goldberg’s objectively painful portrayal of a Jamaican housekeeper in 1988’s Clara’s Heart. The aforementioned performance by Taye Diggs as Winston Shakespeare in 1998’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back is also widely panned.
What’s worse, his character falls into one of a few one-dimensional stereotypes of Jamaicans often used in the media—the object of sexual desire. Other tropes include domestic workers, drug dealers, Obeah men and women, and of course, chronic weed smokers.
Whether it’s due to lack of exposure, research, or effort, Hollywood often inaccurately and negatively depicts Jamaican culture. For example, Disney executives reportedly complained that the Jamaican accents in 1993’s Cool Runnings were too difficult to understand. They instructed the actors to sound like “Jamaican Aladdin” or Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid.
A Lasting Legacy
More than 40 years after his death, Marley remains the best-selling Reggae artist of all time. The impact of his music and legacy live on, hence, why fans feel so passionately about the film. Ziggy Marley explicitly addressed the importance of authentic Jamaican representation in his message. This suggests that execs understand and prioritized peoples’ concerns.
Ben-Adir is a graduate of The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The school is one of the top-ranking universities in the world for performing arts. While Lynch won The 2022 BAFTA Rising Star Award. And, Will Smith took home the Oscar for Best Actor in 2022 under Green’s direction in King Richard. With a talented roster of cast and crew behind Bob Marley: One Love, the highly anticipated biopic looks very promising.
But, to borrow slightly from the lyrics of Marley’s song “Get Up Stand Up”—you can please some people sometimes, but you can’t please all the people all the time.
Watch the trailer for Bob Marley: One Love below:
Featured image credit: Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.