A Revealing Look at ‘Marley’

BY Mike Melia  April 18, 2012 at 2:10 PM EST

Bob Marley remains one of the most recognizable and celebrated musicians in the world, and on Friday a comprehensive look at his life will be shared in a new documentary called, simply, “Marley.” The film, directed by Kevin MacDonald (“Last King of Scotland,” “Life in a Day”), will be released in theaters, through on-demand and on the web the same day.

The documentary, which is the first to receive full cooperation from Marley’s family, includes family photos, interviews from his wife, children, siblings and other relatives. Their perspectives offer a window into Marley’s personal life and reveal some of the early struggles he faced in life. Ziggy Marley, his eldest son, was an executive producer for the film.

“For me, there were so many things done on Bob,” Ziggy Marley said in a recent phone interview, “I felt like where I was in my life at this time…I wanted to do something about him that came from our side. It came from our family prerogative. It is coming from us. We are initiating this, and I felt it was time.”

The son of a white father and a black mother, Bob Marley was cast as an outsider even in his youth. In one of the film’s more revealing moments, Marley’s half-sister Constance, who also had a black mother, and his white cousin are asked to listen to the song “Cornerstone,” which Marley wrote after visiting his father’s family’s construction business. That side of the family wanted nothing to do with Marley, and that rejection was the basis for the song. His cousin and sister didn’t know the story and after listening, Constance proclaims, “He’s THE Marley,” recognizing Marley earned much more fame than his father’s family pedigree.

“Fans will know Bob more than they know him before on an emotional level,” Ziggy Marley said.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, MacDonald said: “Go anywhere around the world, especially in the developing world, and you find people who worship him. His mural is all over the place. Even in the Arab Spring, in the closing credits [of "Marley"] we have a clip of people singing “Get Up, Stand Up.”

“What was hard for us to grasp now was that he saw himself as being on a spiritual journey and the music was a form of preaching. He was driven not by the usual things people are driven by — fame and money — but he was driven by the desire to get a message across,” MacDonald said. “At the beginning I was more skeptical about him because he’s been so commodified, with his image on t-shirts and posters. But the more I looked into it, the more fascinating and heroic he became. Part of that is realizing he’s not a hypocrite. Normally, the more you look into celebrities’ lives, the less you admire them. The more I went on with this, the more I admired him.”

Marley demonstrated his talents as a singer and songwriter early in life, recording his first single, “Judge Not,” at the age of 16. “Marley,” the documentary, emphasizes his early sense of rejection and discrimination, which he responded to with music and a deeper message of love.

“He was sort of a missionary prophet,” Ziggy Marley said. “The last thing my father told me was: ‘On your way up, take me up. On your way down, don’t let me down.’ A father telling his son that puts some responsibility on my shoulders. He told me that, and I take it very seriously.”