The content spans the life and musical career of Bob Marley, mainly as seen through the eyes of those who knew him and contributed to the documentary, including Bunny Wailer, Rita Marley, Lee "Scratch" Perry and many others.
Although Marley was enthusiastic about music from a very young age, he had disappointing record sales as a solo artist with his first singles, “Judge Not” and “One Cup of Coffee”. He then decided to collaborate with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer to create “The Wailers.” This group later became known as “Bob Marley and the Wailers” and achieved international fame. The group made Bob Marley a household name and brought worldwide attention to Jamaican culture, Reggae music and the Rastafari movement.
Throughout the documentary, much of the content deals with Marley’s struggle with racial identity and acceptance. Marley’s widow, Rita Marley stated “they saw Bob as an outcast, because he didn’t really belong to anyone. You’re in-between. You’re black and white; so you’re not even black.” Livingston also comments that Marley was harassed in school for being mixed race. On his race, Marley stated:
"I don't have prejudice against meself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don't deh pon nobody's side. Me don't deh pon the black man's side nor the white man's side. Me deh pon God's side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white."
Marley’s journey to become a member of the Rastafari movement is documented in the film starting with his friendship with Rastafari preacher Mortimer Planno. Marley firmly states several times that he is a key part of the Rastafari movement: the belief that the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, is the reincarnation of Christ. Rita Marley stated that she also converted to Rastafari upon the visit of Selassie I to Jamaica when she saw “marks in his hands”, similar to those Jesus bore when he was nailed to the cross.
Marley’s love of Rastafari was brought out in lyrics of songs such as, “Exodus” and “Jah Live”. Marley’s inspiration for other songs is addressed in the documentary. Examples of this are “Corner Stone”, which dealt with the rejection of Marley by white relatives on his father's side; “Work”, which dealt with Jamaica’s political conflicts; and “Zimbabwe”, which dealt with the Zimbabwean liberation movement.
Throughout Marley’s life, he had a total of eleven children with seven women, despite being married from a young age. When asked if he was married, Marley responded:
"No. You see, I can’t deal with the Western ways of life. If I must live by a law, it must be the laws of His Majesty. If it’s not the laws of His Majesty, then I can make my own law."
Marley’s most famous relationship was with Cindy Breakspeare (Miss World 1976). From this relationship, Breakspheare had Marley’s son, Damian Marley. When asked about how she felt about Marley’s relationships with other women, Rita Marley responded:
"I became his guardian angel. By that time, I was past the service of being a wife because of the importance of who I knew Bob is. I didn’t see it as a fun trip. We were on a mission. It was like an evangelist campaign to bring people closer to Jah."
Marley’s death is uniquely depicted in the documentary. In 1977, Marley found out that he had a cancerous sore on his right big toe. It is believed that the sore on his toe was the result of a cancer that was already spreading in Marley's body. Contrary to those sources, Rita Marley is quoted in saying:
"Somebody stepped on it with their spiked boots and it started to get infested. But Bob would still play football the next day on it, and the next day."
The documentary also conducts interviews with Rastafari doctors, which shows Marley’s strict adherence to the religion. Rastafari doctor, Carleton Fraser, states that “doctors recommended amputation of the hip and removing the entire leg.” Chris Blackwell gives conflicting information and insists that they just needed to amputate Marley’s big toe for him to survive. Later, when Marley started losing his hair in the course of chemotherapy treatment for his cancer, family members also state that Marley had much displeasure in cutting off his dreadlocks, an aspect of Rastafarism, which was unfortunately necessitated by the physical pain their heavy weight was causing him.
The film ends with Marley saying a quote that was the overall message in his music:
"I don’t really have any ambition, you know? I only have one thing I’d really like to see happen. I’d like to see mankind living together. Black, White, Chinese , everyone. That’s all."
During the credits, it shows people from many countries singing the performing “Get Up, Stand Up” and “One Love”.
Interviews conducted and featured include: Cedella Marley Booker, Rita Marley, Bunny Livingston, Ziggy Marley, Cindy Breakspeare, Aston Barrett, Constance Marley (half-sister), Peter Marley (second cousin), Chris Blackwell, Peter Tosh, Lee Jaffe, Donald Kinsey, Edward Seaga, Judy Mowatt and Junior Marvin.
The soundtrack to Marley was released four days prior to the movie, on April 16, 2012. It contains 24 of the 66 tracks listed in the closing credits of the movie. The soundtrack's first single is "High Tide or Low Tide" which was released as a single on August 9, 2011 (2011-08-09). The soundtrack's track list is arranged chronologically as it appears on the film. It's the first record to feature the recording of Bob Marley performing Jamming at the One Love Peace Concert, where Marley joined the hands of Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, members of the People's National Party and the Jamaican Labour Party respectively.
The tracks listed in the film's closing credits, in order, are:ExodusTouch Me Tomato : The Jolly BoysBack To Back (Belly To Belly) : The Jolly BoysMother & Wife : The Jolly BoysDepression : Bedasse with Chin's Calypso SextetRough Rider : Bedasse with The Local Calypso QuintetHigh Tide Or Low TideTrench Town RockNatty DreadSoul RebelJudge NotThis TrainDuppy ConquerorForward March : Derrick MorganSimmer DownKayaA Teenager In Love : Dion & The BelmontsTeenager In Love : The WailersPut It OnMellow MoodDon't Rock My BoatKaya (Acapella Demo)One LoveCrying In The ChapelSelassie Is The ChapelGotta Hold On To This FeelingHold On To This FeelingRun For CoverIt's AlrightBend Down LowSmall AxeDuppy Conqueror (Live TV Studio Performance)Stir It UpCorner Stone (Jah Is Mighty alternate)No Woman, No Cry (Gospel Demo)Get Up Stand Up (Live in London, 1973)Concrete JungleConcrete Jungle (Live TV Studio Performance)Stop That TrainRoots Rock ReggaeRebel Music (3 O'Clock Road Block)No Woman, No Cry (Live At The Lyceum, London 1975)Crazy BaldheadJammingKinky ReggaeNo SympathyBurnin' and Lootin'I Shot The SheriffThe HeathenSmile JamaicaThree Little BirdsIs This LoveWarWorkCrisis DubJamming (Live at One Love Peace Concert, Kingston 1978)No More TroubleLively Up YourselfReal SituationZimbabweCould You Be LovedCould You Be Loved (Live at Madison Square Garden 1980)Is This Love (Live at Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh 1980)Redemption SongGet Up Stand Up (Live)One Love/People Get Ready
For the most part Marley received a high critical acclaim. At Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 95%, based on 93 reviews and an average rating of 7.9/10, with the critical consensus saying, "Kevin Macdonald's exhaustive, evenhanded portrait of Bob Marley offers electrifying concert footage and fascinating insights into reggae's greatest star." It also has a score of 82 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 32 reviews. However the film did receive criticism, with Bunny Wailer saying that the Rastafari part of Marley's life was underplayed in the film. Furthermore, its opening in Jamaica was soured after the colours of the Ethiopian flag were placed on the ground, causing Wailer and others to boycott the opening.
As of August 4, 2012, the film has grossed $1,412,124 in North America.