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New Bob Marley Biopic In Development! Will We Finally Get One?

BobMarleyAlmost 30 years after his death, we still have yet to see a theatrically-released biopic or documentary based on the life of Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley.

There have been a number of attempts over the last decade or so that either eventually died, or stalled, for one reason or another, and I’ll re-address those in a second.

First, this morning brings news that Emmy Award-winning British director Jenny Ash is developing a feature film that will concentrate on Marley’s 1-year sojourn in London, in 1977 (although he actually spent close to 2 years there in a self-imposed exile, after a near-fatal 1976 assassination attempt) – a important year in Marley’s life, the year he discovered he had the cancer that would eventually kill him. It was also the period when he recorded his great Exodus and Kaya albums – the former producing hit singles, Exodus, Waiting in Vain, Jamming, and One Love. Marley also soaked up a little punk rock, hanging out with the Sex Pistols. He also had an affair with Jamaican beauty queen and Miss World, Cindy Breakspeare, with whom he had a son, Damian Marley.

Ash tells Deadline that “she sees the biopic as a love triangle between Marley, his wife Rita Marley, and Breakspeare, whom Ash has spent time with in Jamaica.” It should make for a compelling drama, even though it’s not a true biopic; It’s not an comprehensive retelling of the man’s life, but a crucial portion of it. All well and good, but I’d also appreciate something more wide-ranging – maybe covering his most active years, starting in the early 60s, until his death in 1981 – about a 20-year span.

As I started this post saying, there have been a number of attempts over the last 11 years that either eventually died, or stalled, for one reason or another.

I previously looked at all of them on this blog, and I’ll revisit that post again here.

First, there was the 1999 Warner Bros. project which was to be based on Timothy White’s 1998 novel Catch A fire: The Life of Bob Marley; the film was to star Bob Marley’s son Rohan (as Bob) and Lauryn Hill (as Rita Marley), but nothing ever materialized.

7 years later, in 2006, Jamie Foxx (of all people) was said to be starring as Bob Marley in a biopic that was to be directed by French-Algerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb, which was reportedly conceived by Rita Marley. As an aside, long-time readers of this blog will recognize Rachid Bouchareb’s name, as it’s come up a number of times – notably, his latest film, Hors La Loi (Outside The Law) caused quite a stir at this year’s Cannes Film Festival; also, recall his announced plans last year for an Angela Davis biopic which he was reportedly courting Beyonce to star in?

Roughly 2 years after Bouchareb’s biopic was announced, in March 2008, the project died. Why? Music rights. You see, a month prior, February 2008, Martin Scorsese announced his plans to produce a documentary on Bob Marley’s life, and he had already licensed Marley’s music, which, somehow, Bouchareb and company hadn’t properly done. Eventually, along with the Marley family, Scorsese didn’t want the competition with Bouchareb’s Jamie Foxx-starring project (even though the Marley family was initially behind it). What I read about the matter was much more complicated than what I’ve written here, but it really came down to, Bouchareb’s project (which was announced 2 years prior) wasn’t really moving ahead (despite his attempts to capitalize on Jamie’s Oscar win for Ray), and Scorsese, who we could say wields much more industry power and influence than Foxx and the “outsider” Bouchareb combined, expressed his interest in a doc; and the Marley family, considering their options, likely felt that Scorsese gave them the best shot at seeing a film (whether documentary or biopic) based on Bob Marley’s life made. Either that, or they came to realize how peculiar the casting of Jamie Foxx in the role was, and were eventually seduced by the Scorsese name.

So, Bouchareb’s film died, and Scorsese’s documentary was given life.

But not so fast my friends… Scorsese’s doc was initially set to be released on February 6, this year, 2010, on what would have been Marley’s 65th birthday. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Why not? Well… let’s go back to 2008 for a minute…

In March 2008, literally right around the time the Bouchareb/Scorsese conflict was being sorted out, the Weinstein Company announced that they had acquired the rights to develop the first ever biopic about Marley, and the film was to be based on Rita Marley’s autobiography, No Woman No Cry: My Life With Bob Marley; this confused me because the Marley family had already given their blessings to Martin Scorsese’s project, which put the kibosh on Bouchareb’s biopic due to music rights issues; but they’d now granted the Weinsteins the opportunity to spearhead their own film based on Marley’s life; and it all seemed to happen right around the same time: Scorsese announcing his doc; Bouchareb’s biopic dying; and the Weinsteins announcing their project, and even calling it “the first ever,” as if they already knew that Bouchareb’s biopic was dead (it was officially announced about 2 1/2 weeks after the Weinsteins made their plans known).

In all, it appears to me that the Marleys were simply trying to give Bob a proper remembrance on film, and would go with whomever they felt provided them the best opportunity to ensure that happened.

I’ve waited a long time to tell this story, about growing up in Jamaica and meeting Bob and making our music and falling in love and making our family,” Rita Marley said in a statement at the Weinstein’s announcement of their project.

At the time, Lizzie Borden (Working Girls) was to write the screenplay. IMDBPro still lists her as the writer.

So, what happened to Scorese’s documentary then? As I said already, the doc was set to be released on February 6 of this year, on what would have been Marley’s 65th birthday. However, Scorsese dropped out of it, several months later, reportedly due to “scheduling conflicts,” and he was replaced by Jonathan Demme. However, last August (2009), it was announced that Demme had also left the project, despite the fact that he’d already put a lot of work into it, and was reportedly already in post-production. What happened? “Creative differences” with the documentary’s producers, who were said to have seen saw Demme’s first cut and weren’t impressed.

Demme later addressed the matter with the following statement, “Profound creative differences emerged in the course of the editing. I ended up with a film I adore but unfortunately my love is not shared by the people who paid for it. So we have all got our heads together to find the most positive way to deal with that impasse. I hope we do because I loved making it.”

Thus, it’s in Limbo now it seems. The statement was made in September 2009, and I haven’t heard anything more on the doc since then (but maybe someone out there has and can share with the rest of us). Until I hear otherwise, I’ll assume it’s dead… for now. It’ll likely turn up eventually. I’d guess that they’ve been working on new edits that everyone involved can live with.

So, really, aside from Jennifer Ash’s just announced project, the only other Bob Marley film that seems to be in play at the moment is the biopic film announced by the Weinsteins in March 2008. But it’s been over 2 years, and nothing has surfaced. It’s listed as “In Development” on IMDBPro, and, as I said, Lizzie Borden is still listed as screenwriter.

And so where does all this live us? Well… nowhere really. The Marley family obviously has wanted to bring Bob’s life to the big screen for a decade or more now, in grand Hollywood fashion too, it seems, and I imagine all these starts, stops, and the uncertainties must be frustrating.

In the end, it may be something that they might have to produce independently.

Let’s see if this new project actually has any legs, or if we’ll be wondering what happened to it, 2 years from now.

2 comments to New Bob Marley Biopic In Development! Will We Finally Get One?

  • Theyounglion

    I like the idea of the Jenny Ash film. I prefer movies that focus on a specific period of some renowned person’s life rather than a straight-up biopic. Like films that deal with the period right before they reach greatness (e.g. “Backbeat” about John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliff, and the Beatles), or that deal with something profound that happened to them after they reach greatness (e.g. “Shadowlands” about C.S. Lewis). Those type of films are always more interesting, dramatically speaking. With a straight-up biopic there’s so much ground that has to be covered, so a lot of stuff usually gets glossed over.

    This Jenny Ash film sounds great…the period after the assassination attempt and the turmoil in Marley’s life that led up to Exodus.

  • Babylon Boy

    Nice to see someone adress this issue of the confusion with all these marley films! although we still don’t have any real answers as to whats happening with the film, i wonder… i guess it may just end up like “Old Fire Sticks”!….or like the other Bunny Wailer documentary which was made and never saw the light of day due to his last minute change of mind of it’s release which was a great shame.

    great to hear of the new Jenny Ash film, interesting…