Has the ‘definitive’ documentary about the reggae superstar finally arrived? Bob Marley’s daughter, Cedella, opens up about her famous father and the new film that reveals the (hu)man beyond the legend.
It’s hard not to be taken in by the opening moments of the new documentary Marley. Waves—so passionate, so lush— crash onto the shores of West Africa. A moment later, we spot a few men standing up in a long canoe as they paddle toward an unknown destination. And then, a majestic image appears on screen. At least it looks majestic—from the outside. It’s Cape Coast Castle. And perched here in Ghana, West Africa, it remains a sobering reminder of one of history’s more darker eras. You see, the castle was the threshold where enslaved Africans were held and later shipped to the Caribbean, to North America and to other places in the world in the 18th century. A tall man—a “tour guide” of sorts—informs viewers that 10,000 enslaved Africans were shipped from the spot year after year—and that eventually millions of Africans were taken from their homeland.
The cameras move through a small covered walkway and eventually the scene stops before an old, large wooden door. Above it, a sign reads: “Whoever went through this door, had no chance of coming back.”
This is just one of many moving if not chilling moments found in Kevin Macdonald’s Bob Marley documentary Marley, which hits Santa Cruz, fittingly, on April 20 (4/20). And it’s a powerful way to open a film about the famed reggae superstar/Rastafarian, of whom one noteworthy soul later proclaims on screen, “loved Jamaica, but was “in transit’—Africa was the destination.”
Yes. That certainly was one of Marley’s grandest of missions—his spirituality, so deeply rooted in Rastafarian beliefs and the “repatriation to Africa for Africans,” eventually became one of the most significant creative grooves of his life. Musically, he was a revolutionary and spoke up about racism and colonialism and, as he crooned in “One Drop,” “fighting against ism and scism.” So, the way Macdonald begins his documentary serves as an ideal entryway into a memorable Marley journey few have witnessed before—even loyal Santa Cruzans who attended the Bob Marley & The Wailers concert at the Santa Cruz Civic on Dec. 2, 1979.
For Cedella Marley, Bob Marley’s daughter (with wife Rita), the documentary couldn’t arrive at a better time.
“Finally!” she says in a GT interview. “It’s something that we have been trying to accomplish for about two or three years. We went from different director to director but we met Kevin Macdonald and he brought everything that we were hoping for to life.”
Prior to Macdonald, a handful of directors had been linked to the film, Jonathan Demme among them.
But Macdonald officially entered the picture about seven years ago after Island Records founder Chris Blackwell contacted him about being involved in what, at that time, would have been Marley’s 60th birthday celebration, which was to take place in Ethiopia. Blackwell wanted to fly a large group of Rastas from Jamaica to Ethiopia for the very first time and the film would depict the concert through their experience.
(A Blackwell footnote: As most Marley-ites already know, Blackwell signed on Marley & The Wailers to Island Records in the early ’70s and their first effort there was the album Catch A Fire. Later, a more prominent birth on the major record label turned more heads—the album Burnin, which delivered the hits “I Shot The Sheriff” and “Get Up, Stand Up.” Tuff Gong Studios eventually came into being—the Kingston, Jamaica, residence that became both Marley’s home and recording studio. (Marley also went by the nickname Tuff Gong.) The Wailers regrouped (personally) in 1974, but Marley ventured forth and began recording as Bob Marley & The Wailers with new members. In 1975, along came “No Woman No Cry,” the international hit that sent Marley’s allure soaring farther north. A year later, the album Rastaman Vibration sat on top of Billboard’s charts for four weeks, solidifying Marley as an international sensation. But back to the doc, and Macdonald …)
After doing some initial research on Marley, of whom, Macdonald noted, he really only had an “interested layman’s knowledge,” nothing came of that initial project with Blackwell. Then Macdonald went off to film The Last King of Scotland in Uganda. Even there, Marley’s mystique seemed to follow him, partly, perhaps, because he may have had Marley on his mind—in interviews, Macdonald reportedly noticed images of the reggae titan everywhere—on flags, T-shirts, graffiti. He said he asked himself what it was about Marley that managed to “travel the world?”
In early 2010, the filmmaker was contacted by the producers of Shangri-La Entertainment, informing him that Blackwell had recommended him for directing a “definitive” documentary on Marley, which they were now committed to producing. Macdonald was officially on board.
But there was significant pressure. How do you make the “definitive” Marley doc? How do you illuminate the legend in a way that was fresh? After all, everything from Marley’s music and spiritual beliefs (Rastafarian, of course) to the inner workings of The Wailers and also Marley’s numerous romances—he had 11 children (Ziggy and Cedella among them) from various relationships—had been featured in other outings, some of them much to the chagrin of family members.
In the late-’80s, for instance, Caribbean Nights, which showcased Marley’s life, was released by the BBC. The Biography Channel also aired a Marley doc back in 2004. But none of these efforts seemed to generate the vibe that the Marley family had hoped for. Basically, according to Cedella, they wanted a director who could go “deeper.”
Determined to unearth little-known facts, Macdonald began working closely with the Marley family, mostly Ziggy and Cedella. In press notes, he’s quoted as saying: “The question I wanted to answer in making the film, was: Why does he still speak to people around the world (because it’s clear that he does) and why does he speak to people so much more profoundly than any other rock artist or popular music artist. What I was fascinated to try to do in this film was to make something very personal. Who is this man? Why did he become so successful? What was the message that he had to give out to people?”
While Macdonald found little from the musician’s youth and, perhaps astonishingly, not any footage from the first part of Marley’s career (1962-1973), he pushed through with his mission. The personal accounts of Marley’s life soon stood out in the roughly 60 interviews he conducted for the documentary—half of which were cut. Those interviews include Marley’s wife Rita, the enigmatic Neville “Bunny” Livingston of the original Wailers, a few of Marley’s cousins and other relatives—children Ziggy and Cedella, his first teacher (Mrs. James), and, in one of the doc’s more heartfelt moments, the German nurse who tended to the singer when he went for special—some called it controversial—cancer treatment in Bavaria, Germany.
In 1977, Marley was diagnosed with cancer. He died at the age of 36 on May 11, 1981 in a Miami hospital.
Marley—the Work of Art
Cedella Marley, and others within the inner Marley posse, had one vision in mind in working alongside Macdonald: To create a signature effort that would truly capture Bob Marley—heart, soul and everything human and musical in between.
“What we didn’t want to do was have the same people telling the same stories over and over again—haven’t we seen that? Heard it? I don’t believe half of it anyway,” Cedella candidly reveals. “You have to be very cautious because [in the other docs], it’s ‘their’ story. Or their version of a story. Just to have a diverse set of people that we had—from Peter Marley, and the nurse from Germany, I think Kevin did an amazing job and great research. He brought it. I’m excited that we have a documentary that I would want to sit down and watch. This is probably the first Marley documentary that I sat down and watched. I wasn’t interested in the others.”
It’s certainly a full, emotionally rich body of work. (See review page 26). And much of the archive footage of Marley certainly stands out. One moment, in particular, finds Marley toying with his dreadlocks as he talks about growing up in a musical family in the hills of St. Ann, Jamaica. Somehow it captures his “shine.” Other moments include scenes about Marley’s father, Norval, who was white—some of those interviewed in the doc, including “Bunny” of the Wailers, discuss how Marley was often teased or rejected for being “mixed.”
These moments add to the compelling Marley tapestry here.
“I think we went beyond the legend [here] and discovered the man—the father, the brother, the lover, the husband,” Cedella adds. “We exposed ‘the human being: Bob Marley.’ The weaker parts. The illness. How he really thought it was a fight he could win, just like we all did. Just see him being very vulnerable and still resilient; still the fighter.”
In the film, Cedella herself uncovers powerfully moving moments as she relays the emotional aftereffects of her father’s death and the complicated nature of the entire family dynamic. As a whole, she hopes the documentary exposes Marley’s captivating spirit and one-of-a-kind vibe—one that further illustrates the message that one can bring change and transformation into the world.
That kind of influence wasn’t lost on Cedella, though. Now in her forties, she’s a successful businesswoman. As the CEO of Tuff Gong International, a clothing and design company, she’s partnered successfully with Barneys New York, Zion Rootswear and Puma. She recently designed a kit for the Jamaican track and field team for the 2012 Olympics and her collection of customized women’s clothing is dubbed Catch A Fire—it’s the title of Marley’s hit album. She’s also acted (The Mighty Quinn).
Currently residing in Miami with her husband and three children, Cedella assists with operating 1Love, the unique Marley-inspired charitable enterprise with many rich layers to it. In one corner you’ll find The Marley Missions, which strives to inspire Marley fans around the globe to “carry out one single act of kindness” every day. Participants can accept a mission, complete and share it through a vast social networking web. In another corner, you’ll find ways to help keep music alive in schools and there are, of course, numerous ways to contribute to various charitable causes. (Good news: you can download a 1love app, too.)
The success of the 1love organization is, in fact, but one stunning example of Marley’s reach in the modern world. Another can be found on Facebook, where the legend has nearly 48 million “likes” on his homepage. (Incidentally, you can stream the Marley doc on Facebook the day of its release.)
Beyond that, Cedella can’t escape the profound influence her father has had on her life, personally. When the (live) music finally stopped, after Marley breathed his very last breath, and now, with the documentary hitting the big screen, she admits that she can’t help but reflect upon some of the lessons her father taught her about life; about living.
“He taught me that you have to fight your way through things,” she says. “When people ask me, ‘Well … your father didn’t really make you win a race—what kind of lesson is that?’ I say, if you’re running a race and you just make somebody win, they are not going to try harder next time. They are just going to assume—I am going to win.’
“So I learned to expect the unexpected but always be prepared and be ready for it,” she adds, “because, you know, you’re going to run that race and have to run it to win, or just to know you tried your darnest.”
As Macdonald’s documentary so vividly showcases, Marley ran “the race.” Few would disagree that he ran it so well, it made him something more than just a modern-day icon. Role model, sure. Master of the music … of being a man … a (hu)man—of course. And the most striking note perhaps in all this, is that Macdonald et al reveal just how conscious Marley became of his mission in life.
“Once he had consciousness of that, he gave his all to humanity,” Cedella points out. “I think his story is timeless. It’s almost like it’s a myth. You have some people who don’t believe Bob Marley no longer walks this Earth—that it’s impossible.”
She laughs. “He’s become almost a mystical man … still on a journey …
Marley opens at The Nick in Santa Cruz on April 20. The film also streams on Facebook the same day. Learn more at bobmarley.com. Visit goodtimessantacruz.com and tell us your favorite Marley moment. Entries will later be hand-picked. Winners receive tickets to the film.
Photos: courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.