There have been many attempts to make a Bob Marley movie. At one point, Martin Scorsese was brought on for the job (because of scheduling conflicts, he pulled out). But Kevin Macdonald’s documentary Marley, out today, is the first definitive biography of the superstar to actually hit theaters. It’s a stunning, comprehensive portrait that begins with Marley’s nursery school teacher in St. Ann and ends tragically in the snow, at the Bavarian clinic where he spent the last months of his life. In between is a story about not-belonging: Marley didn’t know his father Norval Marley—a mixed race man with a British father who was considered a white Jamaican. He grew up in poverty, spent some time in Delaware after failing to catch immediate success with The Wailers and didn’t find a black American audience until after his death. At his last show in New York, he opened for The Commodores. Marley is streaming now on Facebook. It’s the first movie released to Facebook on the same day as its theatrical opening, though the site has offered movie rentals since last spring. Below, Marley’s daughter Cedella speaks about her parents’ unique relationship and her role in the film.
How did your family end up working with Kevin Macdonald? Was he a successful choice? Kevin chose us, too. Chris Blackwell called me and said, “I think I have the right person.” Ziggy met with him, and everybody loved him. There’s something about Kevin—good directors can draw stuff out of you that maybe you didn’t want to share. He was the right person for the task, and we give thanks for that. As his children, we walk away from this experience with some knowledge of the later part of dad’s life that we didn’t know. The toe amputation, the stroke. Neville [Livingston, aka Bunny Wailer] talks about dad having his stroke in the film, and watching that I was like, Wait a minute. You guys made it seem like he was just exhausted! But what were they going to say to a 12 year old? A ten year old, four year old, five year old? Maybe it was their way of protecting us. But knowledge is everything. To see the nurse [from the clinic in Bavaria where Marley received alternative cancer therapies] Kevin interviews in the film, and how respectful and loving she was, that was good to know. You see the images of him there without his hair, and for me, I feel hurt. But it was good to hear the nurse say what a great person he was. That’s worth everything. To know that even during those moments he was still Robby—just a nice person.
Your father had a lot of kids and didn’t leave a will. How hard is it to get projects like this film, and other music and image licensing, approved? It’s two of us who have to do the approvals, for not only the music but everything else. If it were more, we would never get any business done! Seven brothers, and how many sisters do I have? Karen. Sharon, Stephanie. Eleven, it’s eleven of us. Sharon is not my father’s child, but she’s the first child from my mother, so she’s always been in our lives. Everything used to only end up on my desk and it was becoming very difficult. Ziggy decided maybe I can find some time to help you, and now it’s Ziggy and me.
It was very important to your dad to give his time to others. His house on Hope Road in Kingston was always open to people, his car was never locked. You speak in the film about how hard it was to share him with other people all the time, especially on the day he passed. I think it was an important point, I wasn’t the only one feeling that. We had a screening here in Miami and when I knew that part was coming up, I walked out of the theater. Because it was something that was so real, it wasn’t something I wanted to watch. Because it was painful enough to remember it. There are moments in life that you regret and you can’t have back.
Is it true that your friends’ parents thought your parents were just stony weirdos? Yeah it’s true! Jamaica is funny, you have your upper class, and your middle class, your lower class and Rastafarians. The reputation of Rastafarians in those days was that all they do is smoke chalice and play on the drums. And here comes us, going to the best Catholic schools. If friends were coming over to my house, they would lie and say they were coming to somebody else’s house. It wasn’t like a normal thing where people could come and sleep over, or spend the weekend. The kids might have thought our house was cool, but their parents didn’t. As dad got more popular in Jamaica, some people became kind of standoffish. Our nice life came after dad passed. Growing up, we used to take the bus to school and sometimes we would have to walk home. It was not every day we would have lunch money.
Pascalene Gombo, the daughter of Gabon’s former President Omar Bongo, appears in the film. They were an item three decades ago, but talking about your father still made her blush! Growing up, were you aware of his charm on women? You need to talk to my mom. There are times when she’s in Miami, next door to me, and I’ll walk over and she’ll be in her room, and she’s drinking whatever she’s drinking or having soup and she’ll say, “Robby was like this,” and I’ll be like, “Ma, Robby who?” And she’ll be like, “My best friend Robby!” It’s like, Ma, you’re still calling daddy Robby? She goes into these long stories about how she misses her best friend, and just like stuff you don’t want to hear. She’s at that age where she starts to talk about how she’s going to see him again. My mom is the number one fan. She will still blush about dad, she will talk about him as if he is still here in the flesh, so I can see how he had that effect on women.
When did you move to Miami? I came here ten, twelve years ago. I’d love to go home to Jamaica. I just want to be safe, especially now that I have children. When I left Jamaica, I left for—it wasn’t an assassination attempt, but seven gunmen came into my house and held guns to my head. Two weeks after that I realized I was pregnant with my first child. I had him in Jamaica, and had my second child in Jamaica, but then I didn’t think it was the right place for them to grow up. I think it was probably my own paranoia.
Your dad’s face is recognized internationally. As a designer, you’ve used his image a lot. What do you think it stands for? Sometimes I use the feel-good sexy images, and sometimes I go for the more militant image. I have more images of dad smiling than being a screwface, and that’s really what the people want. As corny as it might seem, everybody’s about One Love, unity and togetherness and freedom—freedom to express yourself, freedom to live your life how you want to live it.