Pan African Film Festival 2024: ‘Bob Marley: One Love’
Paramount Pictures

The 32nd Pan African Film & Arts Festival, America’s largest Black-themed filmfest, took place last month during Black History Month, in Los Angeles. PAFF screens movies ranging from Hollywood studio productions to indies, foreign films, documentaries, low-budget productions, shorts, etc. Films span the spectrum from Oscar nominees to hard-to-find gems from Africa, the Caribbean, America, and beyond that L.A. viewers are unlikely to be able to see at any other venue. Aside from the occasional retrospective, most of them are new films that will now wend their way through the film distribution market and may pop up soon in a theater near you.

Paramount’s great new movie Bob Marley: One Love was screened as one of PAFF’s “Spotlight Films” two days before it was officially released on, appropriately, Valentine’s Day.

This biopic about the mythic Jamaican Reggae musician opens with a montage of archival footage/news clips of the turbulent politics and electoral campaign of Jamaica’s Prime Minister Michael Manley in 1976 and shows how superstar Bob Marley (portrayed by London-born Kingsley Ben-Adir, son of immigrants from Trinidad) rose to play a significant role in Jamaica’s churning national scene. This includes his surviving an assassination attempt two days before the free “Smile Jamaica Concert” that was supported by Manley.

The Pan-Africanist Marley is shown throughout the biopic reading and/or quoting the Book of Revelations and his fellow Jamaican, Black nationalist Marcus Garvey, plus praising Ethiopian Haile Selassie (who appears in a captivating fantasy sequence). Bob’s “One Love” motto and song reference Garvey’s slogan “One God! One Aim! One Destiny!” Bob also insists on his tour including performances in Africa, despite the reluctance of white promoters worried about infrastructure and, of course, profitability.

BAFTA award winner Lashana Lynch, a British-born actor of Jamaican ancestry who acted in the last James Bond movie, 2021’s No Time to Die, and in Viola Davis’s Africa-made 2022 The Woman King, depicts Bob’s Cuban-born wife Rita Marley, who grew up in Jamaica and converts Bob to the Rastafarian cause. Rastafarianism combines an eclectic mix of Christianity and Afrocentric theology stressing unity and peace (along with the consumption of copious amounts of ganja). Rita and Bob had three biological children together, including Ziggy Marley, who introduces One Love with an endorsement of the movie.

Set against the tempestuous politics of post-colonial Jamaica, through flashbacks One Love also portrays the rise of the beloved Marley and his legendary band, The Wailers. The biopic also recounts Bob’s courtship and marriage with Rita, which could be another reason why this box office hit opened on Valentine’s Day.

I’m no expert on Marley, but to me, Kingsley Ben-Adir convincingly portrayed Marley, whom his bandmates called “Skip” or “Skipper,” as he was their fearless leader. As one would expect, the biopic includes great music, including hits such as the eponymous One Love, No Woman No Cry, and Exodus, which the characters perform live at various concerts or in recording studios.

The movie was filmed on location in Jamaica and London. Despite the fact that Ziggy, Rita, and other members of the Marley family have producer credits, it’s not a hagiography and our man Bob doesn’t come across as flawless. The movie is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, who previously helmed a fact-based feature about sports icons, 2021’s King Richard.

You don’t need to smoke a spliff beforehand (or during) in order to enjoy the highly entertaining Bob Marley: One Love. Ya mon!

For more info see the PAFF website.

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Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an LA-based film historian and critic, author of "Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States," and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book." He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., and other publications. Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements.