Bob Marley lives. This week The Weinstein Co., run by producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, announced that they have acquired the rights to the 2004 book No Woman No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley by Rita Marley, the legendary reggae singer’s widow. Singer Lauryn Hill, formerly of the Fugees, is reportedly slated to play Rita. Other casting decisions, including who will play the singer (Jamie Foxx was once rumored to have the role) are reportedly still pending. Marley will produce the film, which will be directed by Rudy Langlais (The Hurricane). A late 2009 release date is scheduled.
Bob Marley, who died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36, is one of the most worshipped names in popular culture. Marley’s posthumous album Legend is the best-selling reggae album in history, reaching multiplatinum status with more than 12 million copies sold. To legions of music lovers, Marley’s seemingly timeless anthems and revolutionary battle cries represent the work of a global phenomenon whose inspirational songs span generations of listeners. Further, the Weinstein project comes after director Martin Scorsese recently announced his production of a documentary on Bob Marley set for a 2010 release.
A film about Bob Marley could potentially mean box-office gold and critical acclaim. Hollywood has long had a love affair with biopics of iconic musicians. In 1972, it was the Motown-produced Lady Sings the Blues on the life of Billie Holiday. The film earned singer Diana Ross an Oscar nomination. In 1979, Bette Midler played rock star Janis Joplin in The Rose, earning her an Oscar nomination for best actress. In 1984, Amadeus, a film about the composer Mozart, won eight Academy Awards, including best picture. Bird, a biopic starring Forest Whitaker as bebop aficionado Charlie Parker, hit theaters in 1988. And in 1993, What’s Love Got to Do With It, a film about rocker Tina Turner, earned its stars–Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne–Academy Award nominations for best actress and actor, respectively.
In more recent years we have seen 2004’s Ray, about the life of Ray Charles, which earned Jamie Foxx an Oscar for best actor. In 2005, Walk the Line, a film about country singer Johnny Cash starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, earned Phoenix an Oscar nomination for best actor and Witherspoon an Oscar win for best actress. Just last year the film La Vie En Rose, based on the life of French pop singer Edith Piaf, sent its star Marion Cotillard to the 2008 Oscar podium with a win for best actress.
Further, The Weinstein Co.’s 2007 film, I’m Not There, about the life of folk singer Bob Dylan, garnered Cate Blanchett an Academy Award nomination for best actress.
Though critics and the Academy have been kind to many of the film versions of the lives of singers and musicians of note, box-office results have not necessarily been stellar. Though it showcased Ross as a bona fide star, Lady Sings The Blues earned a mere $9.6 million at the theater. The Rose earned only $29.2 million in