Definitive Bio On Bob Marley Hits Theaters

WI Staff Writer | 4/20/2012, 10:56 p.m.

When legendary Jamaican reggae musician Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley died on May 11, 1981 at the young age of 36, people around the world mourned the loss and then started producing documentaries about his life and career.

I can recall exactly where I was -- sitting on my Howard University dorm room bed with my friend Phyllis Wilder -- and breaking down crying as word spread of Marley's untimely demise in Miami. The tears and the shock were real, because this man had a major impact on my life and on the lives of so many others globally, through his reggae-conscious liberation music.

While I knew about Bob Marley, and was (still am) the owner of most of his recordings, there are generations born after 1981 who know only his music, his iconic image and maybe a few facts about his life.

The film "MARLEY," which opened in theaters nationwide on April 20, touts itself as the definitive documentary on icon's life and career, shedding light on aspects that even the most knowledgeable Marley fans may not have known.

At almost two-and-a-half hours long, the film starts at the beginning of Marley's life in the green hills of St. Ann's Parish, Jamaica, in a little village called Nine Mile. Using old photos previously unseen, the story of his birth to his mother Cedella, an 18-year-old country girl, fathered by a white colonial British man, "Captain" Norval Sinclair Marley, is told leaving no matter unaddressed. In this latest film, young Bob Marley's position as an outcast in the small, homogeneous community is made clear. Being of mixed race was a liability in Nine Mile, and Marley turned to music as an escape from the teasing and discrimination he faced.

"I don't have prejudice against meself," Bob reveals in one of the interviews spliced into the film's script. "My father was white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don't deh pon nobody's side. Me don't deh pon the black man's side nor the white man's side. Me deh pon God's side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white."

The story details Marley's rise to fame, the formation of The Wailers early on with Neville "Bunny Wailer" Livingston and Peter Tosh, and how that relationship dissolved once Marley became associated with Island Records founder and producer Chris Blackwell.

All of these stories have been told before both in print and on film. But the beauty that lies in this epic biopic is the range of interviews collected in the film from people who knew Bob Marley from childhood through adulthood. I fact, "MARLEY" is the only film so far, sanctioned by the remaining members of the Marley family: his sons Ziggy and Stephen, daughter Cedella and his widow Rita Marley.

This film is deeply personal because of the many people who make first-time appearances in it -- from his half-sister by Marley's father, who did not know that she was his sister until meeting Rita Marley at a dry cleaning store, to the mother of one of his children born out-of-wedlock, Pat Williams (mother to Robbie Marley), and his primary school teacher who remembers young Bob's musicality.