As the morning of January 23, 2024, dawned in the city of Kingston, residents braced themselves. From the night before, several landmarks in the capital had been lit up with the Rastafari colours of red, gold and green in anticipation of the premiere of “One Love,” the film on the life of reggae icon Bob Marley. From midday onwards, several streets around the historic Carib Cinema in the busy city centre were shut down to accommodate the event.
While some, including business owners, complained about the disruption to their lives on a weekday afternoon, an air of anticipation soon began to grow. The reason for the tight security soon became apparent when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, arrived at the cinema. The film was produced in partnership with the Marley family (primarily Marley's widow Rita and son Ziggy, who attended the premiere, as well as his daughter Cedella), and distributed by Paramount Pictures, whose CEO reportedly invited the royal couple to attend.
The collaboration to get the film made was as international as Marley's music. New York-based director Reinaldo Marcus Green described the movie as “a gift” when it came to him, and UK-born actor Kingsley Ben-Adir said that he had to learn to sing, dance, and play guitar for the part of Marley. The official trailer has been released, and the film is scheduled to open on Valentine's Day in 12 markets.
The Henzell family, well regarded as Jamaican film royalty for their role in the seminal film “The Harder They Come,” congratulated the Marleys on the film's opening:
Congratulations to the Marley family!
Tonight, in Kingston 🇯🇲, the world premiere of Bob Marley: One Love (@OneLoveMovie).
— Jakes Hotel (@JakesHotel) January 23, 2024
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who attended the premiere, posted:
The premiere of the Bob Marley: One Love Movie in Jamaica signifies a momentous occasion for our nation and the global community. 🇯🇲 pic.twitter.com/ZyPfn1wPnW
— Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) January 24, 2024
Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange reminisced:
Last night at the Jamaican premiere of #OneLoveMovie I recalled the many moments I shared with Bob Marley. Even then you could sense that there was something special about his music.
Today, the hope of the entire world is encapsulated in his anthem of One Love! pic.twitter.com/09NKoV1R8h
— Hon. Olivia “Babsy” Grange (@Babsy_grange) January 24, 2024
State Foreign Affairs Minister Alando Terrelonge mused:
Reflecting on #BobMarley as we prepare to celebrate his birthday. The philosophy of One Love. One Humanity. And my fav, the Equality of Races. Equality of Skin Colour. Dismantling of Segregation and Classim. If we follow his teachings, there would be no war in the East or West 🇯🇲
— Alando N Terrelonge, MA, MP #StrongwithTerrelonge (@terrelonge2016) January 23, 2024
The premiere had one Jamaican journalist feeling a surge of national pride:
This Bob Marley movie had me thinking…
Greatest musician the world has ever seen=Bob.
Greatest sprinter the world has ever seen=Bolt.
First ever cricketer to take 500 test wickets=Walsh
A tiny country with a big footprint. #Jamaica
— Dwayne Anderson (@IamDAnderson1) January 24, 2024
Meanwhile, the Sussexes posed for a photo op with the Minister for Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte, who is steering Jamaica's constitutional reform programme that would see it gaining Republic status:
— MalahooForteMP (@MalahooForteMP) January 24, 2024
The Caribbean nation country is one of a handful of Caribbean nations that still retain the British monarch as head of state. Jamaicans’ commentary on the Sussexes was almost universally positive, even while recognising that this was truly a “Marley affair”:
Prince Harry saying ONE LOVE to Queen Rita Marley before the screening of the film. He met her on his first official visit in 2012. 💚💛❤️🇯🇲 https://t.co/qVqZ2RuK42
— Barbara Blake Hannah, O.D., O.S.E. (@BBlakeHannah) January 24, 2024
Reflecting on Jamaica's colonial history and Marley's huge global influence, an African journalist and filmmaker recounted a near meeting of Bob Marley and Prince Charles, and was fascinated by the ways in which “change is reflected and magnified through the life story of this global music icon”:
Yesterday many celebrities, political elites and guess what, British royalty went out to the premier of Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ film in Jamaica.
What caught my eye was the presence of a British Prince, Harry Windsor and his wife Meghan.
When Zimbabwe became independent in… pic.twitter.com/iXrfWPh3rm
— Hopewell Chin’ono (@daddyhope) January 25, 2024
The UK tabloid press, however, condemned not only the Sussexes but also Jamaica's “anti-royalty” stance, resurrecting the occasion of Prince William's highly controversial visit to Jamaica in 2022, when Prime Minister Holness mentioned the likelihood of the island “moving on” from the monarchy. Since that visit, Jamaica’s Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs has set up a Constitutional Reform Committee, which is now considering setting up a referendum to “successfully transition from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Republic.”
As Jamaican academics dismissed the UK media's angry response, one UK newspaper reminded audiences of Harry’s “soft power” and his continued popularity in Jamaica, ever since he visited years ago and “competed” with sprint icon Usain Bolt — a popularity that was cemented when he married Meghan Markle.
One Jamaican joked:
Jamaican twitter getting dressed to fight the British press this morning pic.twitter.com/vlz49zCFIh
— less (@_lessismaur) January 24, 2024
Another found a tediously long headline in one UK tabloid quite amusing:
— Sujae H. Boswell (@SujaeBoswell) January 24, 2024
Bringing the focus back to Marley, the premiere once again raised the question of whether Bob Marley, who received a posthumous Order of Merit (Jamaica’s highest national honour), should be made a national hero. When asked about this, Prime Minister Andrew Holness was noncommittal, saying that “the conversation continues.”
When the movie does open, however — during Jamaica's Reggae Month, which honours Marley's birthday on February 6 — there is sure to be plenty of feedback. Jamaicans are never shy about expressing their opinions, especially when the topic involves media portrayals of themselves.