The release of the Bob Marley biopic, “One Love,” will shine the spotlight on one of the 20th century’s most influential recording artists. Yet, those who have been deeply inspired in their lives by the totality of Marley’s visionary message may be disappointed by the film’s narrower focus on his final campaign and concert for peace and unity in his native Jamaica.
This narrative device is understandable as a concession to the needs of melodrama. Still, the movie presents an opportunity to reexamine Marley’s broader intellectual legacy, which has important lessons for anyone interested in the politics of freedom movements. It is of particular significance for observers and practitioners of international development, at a time when efforts to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are stalling and the monumental collective challenge of the climate crisis has further complicated efforts to improve living conditions across the Global South.
The first demand Marley’s message places on the listener is in its subject position: Without fail, Marley speaks to, for and from the perspective of the sufferer. In doing so, he forces us to never lose sight of who is at the heart of our efforts to improve the human condition—and what’s at stake in those efforts.