Celebrities, celebration, and a touch of controversy at the Jamaica premiere of the Marley biopic ‘One Love’

Feature image via Canva Pro.

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:

Excitement quickly mounted on social media, with invited guests like veteran singer Nadine Sutherland posting photographs, and a flood of commentary from those who could only watch from a distance.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who attended the premiere, posted:

Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange reminisced:

State Foreign Affairs Minister Alando Terrelonge mused:

The premiere had one Jamaican journalist feeling a surge of national pride:

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:

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”:

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”:

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:

Another found a tediously long headline in one UK tabloid quite amusing:

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.”

Already, local fashionistas are considering what to wear when the film opens on February 14, while one journalist observed that very little has been said of the movie itself.

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.

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