Right from frame one, you knew that Bob’s Great ‘Britain roots’ had to be taken a little more seriously than the man himself would have ever wished. Why? Because, director Kevin McDonald is Scottish himself, after all!
Within the first few minutes of the film, you are flooded with stories of Bob Marley’s ‘father’ – probably a British forest guard in Jamaica at the time. He was in his 60s when he took Bob’s mom, a black girl, at a tender age of only 16.
As if that wasn’t enough, you were peppered with pictures of this British man’s family, his cousins and siblings, some on horseback, and an excited voice-over brandishing the photos as, “this is Bob’s family.”
By now you already know what this rendition of Bob Marley’s life is going to be about – we are supposed to believe from the outset that whatever the non-relationship this British man had with Bob, it was nonetheless pivotal in shaping Bob; we are supposed to understand that Bob was never black, neither was his music, and alas, he was never ‘pon the black man’s side!’
And, if you thought Reggae was black music, think again! This film pulls your ears into submission and echoes right into them, that Reggae may have just developed, if not out of randomness, then certainly out of a something more akin to white musical influences.
So you kept asking yourself at every turn of this documentary, “I thought the m*therf*cker was black?” No, not really. Not in Kevin McDonald’s documentary. It seems that the rules have slightly changed in his post-racial world.
Besides the feelings and thoughts of how during those colonial times, a white man in his 60s could, at will, impress himself on a 16 year old black girl - which should sadden you – perhaps, it is Kevin McDonald’s seeming fascination with that atrocity and how he managed to tackle the issue without concern, that frightened you most!
Even Bob Marley’s Corner Stone, a song that was clearly a metaphor about Bob’s love life – a builder (a lady) who refused a stone (him) – was turned into something more bizarre by Mr. McDonald. According to him, Bob Marley was merely professing to his ‘never seen‘ dad who ‘rejected‘ him. I entreat everyone to take a listen to Corner Stone again. If this is not the most white-supremacist-porn I have ever heard then I wonder. Aren’t Black people just begging for white acceptance? Even Bob Marley? Isn’t it?
The fundamentals about Mr. McDonald’s arguments, like other racist readings into everything that intimidates supremacists, is that they find every reason to appropriate everything black that they covert as definitely white influenced. Even the fact that black people tend to be better at certain sports is painted with a Slave Breeding theory that is, like eugenics itself, stooped in factless rememberings of members of the KKK, and such revisionist history by white liberals.
The dilemma that supremacist ideas are! Why can’t people be good at what they do without recourse to race?
But the film does not stop here. Kevin McDonald tacitly translates manners supposedly directed at Bob during his childhood because of his lighter-skin, as hatred from black people – even to the point of calling them reverse-racism while at the same time carefully ignoring and side-stepping the issue of the absentee white-father – the racist who fathered and even enslaved many of their own offsprings – something that should be frowned on and today, heavily chastised!
In any case, I couldn’t be any more certain that this act of accusing black folk of reverse-racism is a wider scheme based in part, on loose knowledge or misinformation about racism itself. I wonder, and I am quite sure that if Kevin McDonald gathered anything at all from his education at that prestigious Boarding School of his in Scotland, it was certainly not a thorough understanding of race and race relations in neither Jamaica nor rest of the world.
So, with much ignorance about race, this film marched on pointing fingers at Bob’s uncles and family, labeling them racists perhaps, lazy in other respects and completely inhumane to Bob Marley – because according to him, Bob had to earn every living even in his own house!
In retrospect however, the moment this roller-coaster took off, you knew black history was going to be turned upside down, bottoms up, twisted and rolled-over. You were fed a sort of European elitism – another concoction/fabrication of black history. In white washing everything Bob Marley stood for, presenting him as a man above-race, non-racial, Kevin McDonald sought to demobilize any revolutionary verve Bob Marley may have left behind in support for the socio-economic emancipation of black people the world over from the ruins of the abominable Trans-Atlantic-Slave Trade.
Such was the marvel in the opening 15 seconds. The film managed to tell the story of the horrific enslavement of Africans from the forts and castles of Ghana’s coasts to the new world in a sheer 15 seconds. It managed within this time frame to extricate the indomitable cultural roots or nevertheless the invincible cultural vestiges that animated Africans, Bob Marley himself, in the new world to create their own musical forms – including Reggae.
But why should the significance of the Slave Trade and its effects on the fall of the West African Empires in the 1400s A.D. and the trauma it left on Africans everywhere, matter to a prestigious Scottish Boarding House graduate?
Since the world cannot seem to love Bob Marley the way he was – black – perhaps, the problem of the 21st Century has evolved in ways that Du Bois himself could not have fathomed. When we cannot love the Rastafarian unless his sense of purpose, his prestige as an African descendant and his roots in an African cultural philosophical thought have been stripped bare to his ‘black and white’ bone in order to make him more acceptable and non-threatening to his wide white audiences, then I am sorry.
Without stressing Reggae’s roots in Ska – a full-fledged mixture of influences from African “burru” percussion, American jazz and R&B, and Latin rhythms – it was once again inexpedient to lull the secret admirers of Reggae to express their outward love for the genre without incurring the wrath of the rest of the racist world.
Nevertheless, you could blame this blunder on ignorance and even probably, a reluctance to do adequate research. However, you can’t possibly excuse the filmmakers for the constant whitewashing of Bob Marley’s blackness and the femininization of his manhood. And what’s with hitting our heads every time with, ‘what a womanizer he was?’
At this point, you begin searching for Spike Lee! You begin looking for John Singleton. You begin looking for all the black filmmakers who could have and would have made a much better documentary without question.
Because, if at all Bob Marley’s blackness or masculinity was ever gauged, it was measured only in accordance with his involvement in the Rastafarian Faith. If at all his creativity and genius was ever discussed, it was meshed with a British tint that was completely absent in the man’s life.
In sum, the filmmakers have managed to make mockery of Rastafarianism – they’ve reduced it to some ‘infantile fascination’ with Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. You see?
So, I am forced to emphasize this. Even Christianity is not exempt from any such criticism from Kevin, if such excuses could even be made. The Christian Faith is as much a worshiper of an incredible individual who walked the planet in flesh and blood. What is so senseless about Rastafarianism and the way it hails Haile Selassie I?
Furthermore, how do you plant, within the hour, a Bob Marley who supposedly claims he’s not on the black man’s side but who believed God Himself Black, incarnated in human form and come to save black people from white oppression? How do you reconcile that?
Furthermore, the filmmakers seemed completely oblivious to all the time and energy Bob himself spent during his career espousing the beliefs of Rastafari in songs like “One Love”, “Jammin’” and “Exodus”. Not to mention that “Stolen from Africa, brought to America… fighting on arrival, fighting for survival“, remains a central message of Bob’s doctrine – his belief that besides the Buffalo Soldier’s heroics or gallantry, both of which were ample, the struggle to unite Africa and all peoples of African descent in order to fight white oppression was paramount.
In sum, I feel the real point to Bob Marley’s life in the documentary by Kevin McDonalds was completely skipped and whitewashed. I am not surprised though, since he’s the same man who directed The Last King of Scotland – a particularly parochial representation of Idi Amin Dada, Uganda aand Africa as a whole. I believe that Bob’s life was more about the struggle for survival, and what choices and compromises black people have had to make especially in the new world.
So, dare I call Kevin McDonald’s rendition of Bob Marley’s life, Marley 2012, Birth Of A Nation Marley. And in every respect I have at least spared him a history lesson in how a black director could have and would have told Bob Marley’s story the authentic way.
Lest he forgets, it would have been thorough, it would have been pointed and above all, it would have been a black man’s story whose mother, and his Jamaican family happened to have been his only parents in life!
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Stars: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley and Jimmy Cliff