Enduring appeal of reggae star captured in biopic

Enduring appeal of reggae star captured in biopic Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley in Bob Marley: One Love biopic. Photo: Paramount.

Bob Dylan’s career ran chronologically alongside that of another iconic singer with the same Christian name. Bob Marley is less well known to most people than Dylan but Bob Marley: One Love (12A), a biographical drama of the Jamaican singer-songwriter, may change that.

The casting of Kingsley Ben-Adir in the title role received the blessing of Marley’s widow Rita. It isn’t hard to see why. As well as resembling the reggae legend physically he replicates his speaking voice and also sings in some parts of the film.

It isn’t Ben-Adir’s first time appearing as a real person. He played Barack Obama in The Comey Rule and was Malcolm X in One Night in Miami in 2021. That film, like this one, was directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. Green propelled Will Smith to an Oscar for King Richard in 2021.

Lashana Lynch is equally convincing as Rita. Marley married her in 1966. He also converted from Catholicism, the religion of his parents, to Rastafari that year.

From slum origins he shot to fame with his group The Wailers. As well as being a singer he was an activist for the underprivileged. It was this that resulted in both he and Rita being shot in 1976 in a hate crime. Thankfully neither injury was serious. Marley even performed a concert on the night of the shooting.

The film gets its title from his single ‘One Love’. His ‘One Love Peace Concert’ came to be known as ‘The Third World Woodstock’. Profits went towards helping to house disenfranchised residents of West Kingston in Jamaica.

Humanitarian concerns were always high on his list of priorities. That’s why he’s still championed more than four decades after his passing. And why tunes like ‘Love is My Compass’ and ‘Redemption Song’ continue to inspire his legion of fans the world over. “Reggae,” he pronounced, “is people music.”

He succumbed to toe melanoma in 1977. Amputation was advised but it went against his religious beliefs. A verse in Leviticus states, “Thou shalt not make baldness upon the head nor make any cuttings in the flesh.”

The former part of the verse resulted in his famous dreadlocks; the latter one caused him to refuse medical treatment that could have saved his life. The cancer spread in subsequent years, leading to his death in 1981.

By then he’d made many attempts to have himself treated with alternative medicine. He was only 36, the same year as another icon who died prematurely – Marilyn Monroe.

One Love will enhance Marley’s legacy.  He made reggae mainstream and also popularised Rastafarianism. The late Sinead O’Connor, to name but one fan, was a particular devotee.

Should Catholics be concerned about the rise of alternative religions in this country or accepting of the fact that spirituality is ‘a broad church’? Maybe those who remain in the faith in which they were raised, despite (or because of?) the numbers being smaller will be stronger as a result.