How Ziggy Marley helped bring the authenticity to ‘Bob Marley: One Love’

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People had been coming to Ziggy Marley and his family for years with ideas about how to turn reggae icon Bob Marley’s life into a movie. But it never felt quite right, until a few years ago when they decided to be the instigators.

“It was just a feeling,” Ziggy Marley said of getting his father’s life on screen in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “We explored it without knowing that we definitely wanted to do it because we needed to make sure that the people we did it with was the right people. People who respected what we wanted to do, the culture, the authenticity that we wanted.”

This time, he said, they found the right partners. But it was a gamble for everyone: For Paramount Pictures and the other producers, wanting to do right by Bob Marley’s story, his music and his message and worried what would happen if they didn’t; For Kingsley Ben-Adir stepping into the shoes of an icon; For the family and friends who mined their memories for the more intimate story; And for a director, Reinaldo Marcus Green, who had to bring it all together and make it sing.

Early signs suggest that for moviegoing audiences, it worked. “Bob Marley: One Love” has only been in theaters for a few days, but it is already making waves at the box office. On its first day alone, it made $14 million in North America, a record for a midweek Valentine’s Day debut. As of Sunday it had already made an estimated $80 million globally. Though critics have been mixed, ticket buyers responded with enthusiasm giving the $70 million film the highest marks in exit polls.

“It’s such a rewarding validation of the thing that we set out to do,” said Mike Ireland, the co-president of Paramount Motion Picture Group. “The audience is the ultimate arbiter of every movie and everything you put into the world. And to have them respond in that way? It’s just fantastic.”

The film focuses in on a specific period in Bob Marley’s life, from 1976 to 1978. During that time of political turmoil in Jamaica, the reggae legend survived an assassination attempt, produced his seminal album “Exodus” in an 18-month exile in London, was diagnosed with cancer and returned to Jamaica to reunite with his family and stage the famous “One Love” concert.

“I’m a movie guy,” multi-Grammy winner Ziggy Marley said. “My selfish goal was to have a movie that had entertainment and action. I said to them, ‘I don’t want a boring movie.’ And this period of time was the most active and entertaining.”

The story and script were derived from stories from Ziggy Marley and the legend’s widow, Rita Marley, played in the film by Lashana Lynch, and others who knew him well. They shot on location in the U.K. and Jamaica, where they worked with locals in front of and behind the camera, where many had personal or at least second-hand ties to Bob Marley.

For Green, one of the biggest challenges of a film like “One Love” was getting the patois language right and making it feel real without watering it down. They were, he said, essentially making a foreign language movie but without subtitles. It’s just one of the crucial ways that their largely Jamaican cast and crew added texture and legitimacy to everything.

“We cast, I would say, 98% Jamaicans,” Green said. “We have real musicians as well. It creates that authentic feeling. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching actors trying to play music. You have real music by real musicians.”

The studio and production companies leaned heavily on the local government and film commission for help filming in Trench Town and re-creating Bob Marley’s home exactly as it was.

“You have to get the people of Jamaica’s blessings first for something like this, you know?” Ziggy Marley said. “We couldn’t do it without Jamaica.”

And all hope they helped to contribute to Jamaica’s filmmaking infrastructure. It’s hardly a surprise that the film now holds the record for Jamaica’s biggest opening day ever, surpassing “Black Panther.”

On everyone’s mind was getting Bob Marley right — starting with the music that most audiences will come in knowing and expecting certain things from, and trickling down to the private and internal life of a larger-than-life figure. Ben-Adir learned to sing and play guitar, which he did during filming under Ziggy Marley’s guidance — who wanted an artistic interpretation and not an exact copy. The final film blends Ben-Adir’s voice with archival recordings.

“Kingsley did a good job,” Ziggy Marley said. “He did the work. He really studied.”

Sometimes when families and estates are involved in the biopic process, the life can get watered down and sanitized. But Ziggy Marley and his family went in clear-eyed about wanting to show a real person, flaws and all. And who better to steer the process and the large-scale re-creations of famous concerts than someone who also is an acclaimed musician in his own right?

Ziggy Marley hopes that the film makes “people feel like they are part of the family, part of the crew, part of the band,” he said. “You are inside now. You’re not a fan on the outside.”

But mostly, he said, it’s about the message.

“We’re shedding a light on the idea of unity for humanity, of one love for people,” he said. “That is what we are most proud of, that we are serving a purpose.”

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