Bob Marley Biopic: ‘Who The Cap Fit?’
Forty years after Bob Marley’s tragic passing, the adaptation of his life story is finally forging ahead. The icon has been the subject of many focused documentaries, but a full-fledged, silver screen showcase may be the only thing missing from a decorated and deified career.
The Paramount Pictures film will be produced under the Tuff Gong imprint by Bob Marley’s widow Rita, and children Ziggy and Cedella Marley, while Reinaldo Marcus Green, director of Monsters and Men, has assumed directorial duties after an extensive search.
The casting credits for the film could be just as meticulous. Who qualifies as a fitting first choice to portray the Reggae patriarch? Will it boil down to A-list talent, or will producers opt for a more accurate and authentic vibe?
In the absence of further details or a release date, we pulled together a list of top picks of the artists, actors, family members, and more who could be called upon to evoke the essence of one of the most timeless and recognizable figures of modern history. “Audiences want to know the real Bob, the man as well as the legend,” Green said in a release.
Here’s who we think could play Bob Marley, paying homage via Hollywood to the mystical, magical icon.
The Next Generation: Marley’s Grandsons
The biopic (essentially a dramatic movie about a famous person’s life) may ultimately focus on Marley’s stardom, but will likely feature scenes from his childhood and adolescence. “I trust this film will bring us closer to understanding his journey, and continue to carry the torch of his legacy,” Green said of the project.
What better way than to tap the talent pool of the 2nd generation Marleys, some of whom are busy adding weight to the family name.
Of Bob’s nearly 20 grandsons, a few are already well-versed in the industry.
Elijah Marley, the eleven-year son of Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, regularly rocks the stage with his dad, and is credited as a DJ, singer, songwriter, and record producer.
Stephen Marley’s 29-yr-old son, Jo Mersa Marley, flexed his ‘Ragga’muffin chops on the Survival 76 Cypher last month, while Cedella’s 24-yr-old son Skip Marley is a two time Grammy nominee among the 2021 contenders for this year’s top Reggae prize.
Skip who bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather also became the first Jamaican-born artist to hit No. 1 on the Billboard R&B Adult Chart.
“He’s the reason why I think the way I think, why I sing the way I sing”, he recently told E! News.
Ziggy, Julian, Damian Marley
From Stephen ‘Ragga’ Marley’s musical prowess to Ky-Mani Marley’s singing vibrato, each of Marley’s seven sons shares a unique and uncanny trait with their father.
Though the saying goes, ‘seven brothers, seven different minds’, their unified approach to the preservation of their father’s legacy is, like the family resemblance, hard to miss.
Bob’s oldest son Ziggy, whose looks and vocals eerily match the elder Marley’s, once told American author Anthony DeCurtis, “Me and my father have something in common which you can’t hide and you can’t run from, you know?” The famed music critic further expressed that “Ziggy is like a reflection of his father Bob, a young echo. As time goes on it is almost scary how this reflection seems to grow more and more like the original, in spirit if not always in style.”
Many have noted that Marley’s manner of speech was not merely an accent per se, but an entire cadence that showed in every facet of his interactions. Marley’s demeanor was a blend of his inflections, intonations, word choice (proverbs and parables), spirit, and style. Whoever is chosen for the role would need a thorough grasp of Rasta ethos, or in this case, already fit the bill.
His sons seem to have inherited all this, as well as bits of his body language and the fervor of his stagecraft. We’ll have to wait and see whether Ky-Mani, who’s already a professional actor, Julian, a strong contender in terms of physical likeness, or Damian who easily boasts “look how long mi locks is” but is unlikely to cut his hair for the project are included on the final roster.
American actor Michael Ealy may be The Perfect Guy but is he the man for the job? He and the Get Up, Stand Up star share a bi-racial background, and the blue-eyed star boasts an impressive list of acting credits in film and on television. From the action-horror flick Underworld: Awakening to 2 Fast 2 Furious, Ealy could pull strong numbers if the movie’s endgame is publicity and cachet.
Ealy’s latest movie, Fatale, is a gripping psychological thriller starring Hilary Swank that tapped into reggae music for its dynamic soundscape. Featuring the likes of Koffee and Chronixx, it’s a timely reminder that the genre still boasts box office appeal.
Although Marley needs no introduction, there’s an inherent risk in casting an unknown actor to a big-budget Hollywood film. Though a more realistic portrayal would come from closer to home, (remember Cool Runnings & How Stella Got Her Groove Back?) we’ll find out soon enough whether an American will be skanking to Trenchtown Rock.
Could the Pyramid capture the towering essence of the Gong? Both a conscious crooner and shameless football aficionado (a quick scroll through his socials will confirm Arsenal affinity), the Can’t Breathe Reggae revivalist ticks a few boxes when it comes to the obvious basic requirements.
He’s also already in the family’s good graces, with Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, Stephen Marley, and the Ghetto Youths International camp co-producing his last studio effort, 2018’s Kontraband. The ‘youngest veteran’ also appears on the title track, the video for which stands at over 3M Youtube views.
The Juno award winner who is also a fan of Tuff Gong’s inimitable songwriting abilities said in an interview with United Reggae, “the writing in Bob Marley’s music shows a level of mastery of understanding people. When I listen to Bob Marley I feel like this is a man who really has a concern about the state that humanity is in and wants to reach to everybody.”
With a coveted family cosign and politically charged catalogue to match — his Well Done intro, “Inna yuh face dem a smile up/ Behind you back a money dem a pile up”, seamlessly channels Marley’s Slave Driver: “Good God, I think it’s illiteracy/ It’s only a machine that makes money”, the odds could be stacked in Kabaka Pyramid’s favour.
Yep, you read that correctly. Blame it on the acting skills — method acting that is.
Some years ago, it was widely reported that Foxx was cast as the Reggae legend in a since-shelved project by French filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb. The selection came on the heels of Foxx’s Academy Award-winning portrayal of Ray Charles, and though Foxx and Marley’s complexion, physical likeness and accent may seem like a barrier, they were considered trivial for such a remarkable method actor.
Method acting involves going to immersive extremes to elicit the most accurate performances.
To achieve complete emotional identification with Ray Charles, Foxx glued his eyes shut for 14 hours a day during filming, lost 30 pounds to better depict his heroin ravaged body, and had a cosmetic dentist chip his teeth to look like those of the blind musician’s. All this earned Foxx an Oscar Award and explains the director’s confidence despite what seemed like reaching to most.
He’s also mastered convincing imitations from his standup skit days on Fox’s In Living Color series alongside the Wayans brothers.
Half-Bahamian, full-blooded rockstar Lenny Kravitz grew up on a diet of island sounds, the groovy lull of calypso and reggae. His catalogue is mostly rock, blues and soul, but he’s never lost touch of his roots or his ties with the Marley family, even after he cut his dreadlocks that initially got him labeled as a wannabe Bob Marley. Kravitz is not only close to Ziggy, but Marley’s mother Cedella Booker, recalling times he’d spend hours at her home in a BoomShots interview.
“Of course. I know Ziggy really well. We were on the same label—we were on Virgin. So when I lived in Miami I used to go over to his grandmother’s house and eat and talk, smoke, chill, listen to music. She was really sweet to me. So I actually got to know her better than any of the kids. I spent more one on one time with her,” he said.
In addition to this rock-solid affiliation, his acting career is bolstered by a respectable recurring role as Cinna in The Hunger Games franchise.
Kravitz and the Gong were both born to a black mother and white father, and are among the most prolific guitar wielding West-Indian musicians. He couldn’t choose a favourite song when asked, claiming that he’s indebted to Marley’s entire opus.
“[It’s just] great feeling and melody and subjects. The rebel songs are really strong. Those songs mean a lot to me, but the love songs are beautiful too. He was hardcore with his love.”
The No-Maddz (Sheldon “Sheppie” Shepherd/ Everaldo “Evie” Creary)
If the producers are looking for seasoned Jamaican talent they need look no further than the roots reggae duo No-Maddz, comprising Sheldon “Sheppie” Shepherd and Everaldo “Evie” Creary.
Shepherd and Creary both appeared in Storm Saulter’s critically acclaimed debut film, 2011’s Better Mus’ Come.
The screenplay takes place in the throes of 1970’s political gang culture and also briefly delves into the birth and teachings of Rastafari, realities very near to Marley’s lifelong cause. Marley would lose many friends and write countless lyrics about the eclipsing violence before an attempt on his life led him to self-imposed exile.
Shepherd won the Best Actor Award at the American Black Film Festival for his portrayal of the hopeful yet overwhelmed gangster protagonist, Ricky. Creary has copped an Actor Boy Award for his efforts in the business spanning over fifteen years, and they were both cast in the British crime drama Yardie, directed by Idris Elba.
Both are recipients of the prestigious Jamaican Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Excellence in Arts and Culture, and also bear the stamp of approval from none other than the man who gave Marley his international springboard, former mentor and manager, Chris Blackwell.
In a Rolling Stone interview back in 2013, Blackwell stated “There’s a band called the No-Maddz who are more like theater than a group. They’re actors. It’s this whole audio-visual kind of thing. It’s different. But they’re really good, really talented and really smart.”
Kadeem ‘Kenzic’ Wilson
Jamaican actor/musician Kadeem ‘Kenzic’ Wilson got his first commercial role while he was still a student at Excelsior Community College. He’s been on a roll since then, landing himself a slew of roles in uniquely Caribbean tales.
His confidence in what was once only a knack developed as the gigs rolled in, leading to the chilling performances as Gully Rat in Ghett’a Life (Winner of the Best Pitch Prize at 2011’s Cannes Film Festival), as well as Jim ‘The Don’ Gilbert alongside the great Jamaican actor Paul Campbell in Home Again.
With nearly ten films to his name in just a few short but dedicated years, Kadeem’s biggest feat to date has been playing unruly fallen track star Germaine in the 2018 sports drama, Sprinter.
What’s the actor, director, reggae recording artist, and Prime Minister Youth Award recepient’s dream role?
“Bob Marley,” he proudly told Tallawah Magazine last year. “I would really go into my method acting for that. I’ve seen documentaries that they’ve done about his life, but in terms of a biopic it should be something that does justice to his legacy, and that would be a real accomplishment for me.”
Dale Elliot Jr. (Elli The Viner)
25-year-old vlogger, actor, and brand ambassador Dale Elliott Jr. gave such a stellar performance as the lead in 2018’s Sprinter, that many went looking for his character, Ackeem Sharp’s Wikipedia page. Like the protagonist, Elliot can relate to the story of immigrant parents and track star dreams, so much so that director Storm Saulter decided to take the risk to cast the nascent star.
He said that while Elliot had zero acting experience, he told himself the youngster could bring a level of truth to the role that an actor performing this experience could not.
“He was 21 when we started shooting this film, now he’s 23”, Sprinter’s producer, Robert Maylor, told The Love Magazine. “He’d only ever done Instagram videos, so the longest thing he’s done before was 20-30 seconds, and [was] asked to carry a whole film.”
The result? A resounding success right out of the blocks.
Sprinter won 5 awards at 2018’s American Black Film Festival, including the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature, the Audience Award in the Best Film category and Best Director Award.
It also copped the Best Narrative Feature award at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles among several other trophies.
Elliot, who cites Will Smith (who executive produced the movie along with his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith) as an inspiration to his career, told Jamaicans.com “I would like to be in more athletic or action roles. I think I can give a good representation of a handsome, smart, hardworking, troublesome Jamaican man.”
It seems the Marley’s may have found a winner — Elliot now has the shoulder-length locks and acting chops to effortlessly channel the Gong in his prime.
Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino
Donald Glover may have the close-cropped dreads and piercing stare of the young Gong circa Catch A Fire, but the nod goes deeper than aesthetics. The American actor, rapper, writer, and director’s last film, Guava Island tells the story of a man whose larger-than-life dreams are seen as a threat to the island’s ironclad regime.
Glover plays Deni, a local singer whose plans to unite the people through a nightime music festival are thwarted by the authorities. “We live in Paradise, but none of us have the time or means to actually live here,” he says in the film.
It brings to mind Marley’s 1976 Smile Jamaica concert, a similar venture against warring political factions that nearly cost the megastar his life. Armed thugs attacked Marley at his home two days before the event, hitting him, his wife Rita and manager Don Taylor as they rehearsed. Miraculously no one was killed, and an unshaken Marley ensured the show went on.
It spawned one of his most inspiring utterances: “The people who were trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off. Why should I?”.
Add to that the fact that Glover, the Grammy, Emmy and Golden Globe winner is used to inciting controversy in his music.
Glover performs under the moniker Childish Gambino, and his hit single This is America is a searing social commentary on the black man’s plight in the land of the free. “Yeah, this is America/ Guns in my area/ I got the strap/ I gotta carry ’em,” he raps.
The song isn’t a far cry from Marley’s own mockery of capitalism and the hand it’s dealt black men who fought for and built America on Buffalo Soldier: “I’m just a Buffalo Soldier/ In the heart of America/ Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival/ Buffalo Soldier/ Win the war for America.”
Wild Card: Luka Sabbat
American model and cultural influencer Luka Sabbat is Gen Z’s ‘too cool for school’ poster boy who also looks a lot like Marley. Ironically, he’s a star on the college series Grown-ish, playing the freewheeling trendsetter and stoner Luca Hall. When he’s not on set, he’s still on camera of course, hanging out with the rest of fashion’s ‘It’ kids.
The new generation of chic young celebs also includes Calvin Klein/ Yeezy model and daughter of Rohan Marley, Selah Marley. The two were spotted front row at New York Fashion Week in Spring 2019.
Way before then, however, Sabbat was just a regular 17-year-old, rocking Tom Ford at his high school prom, smoking and tweeting “if you don’t like bob marley, you have a problem.”
if you don't like bob marley
you have a problem.
— luka fallback sabbat (@whoisluka) July 31, 2014
You can’t please everyone, but we know the Marley estate is unfailing in their bid to champion and lionize the trailblazer. Time will tell whether or not these predictions manifest, but regardless, we can still hope for an economic as well as an authentic payoff.