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Netflix's 'ReMastered: 'Who Shot the Sheriff?' reminds us of some of Bob Marley's most important values


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“Who Shot the Sheriff”, the first episode of Netflix’s new ReMastered series of music documentaries directed by Kief Davidson, on the surface is a clear, intelligent analysis of political turmoil and Bob Marley’s assassination attempt. But more than that, it's an ode to Bob Marley - his cultural influence, and his values that hit home today more than ever before.

It touches on issues such as police brutality against people of colour, as well as violence and poverty in inner-city communities - issues we still encounter far too often today. 

Davidson’s vision and message is clear - Bob Marley was not just a musical icon, he was a cultural icon. Marley’s impact on masses internationally and as the face of the Rastafari movement is beautifully depicted. The episode includes emotional and revealing interviews with individuals ranging from reggae legend Jimmy Cliff to record producer Wayne Jobson. Vivien Goldman, Marley’s UK publicist, says what all of us right-minded people are thinking just two minutes in: “Why would anybody want to hurt Bob? He was so much a symbol of peace”.

To the surprise of many - on December 3rd, 1976 four gunmen shot Bob Marley in his own home on Hope Road in Kingston and wounded him. Netflix does not shy away from blaming the establishment. “Who Shot the Sheriff” suggests the possible involvement of the CIA and the American government, as well as of the two main political parties in Jamaica at the time.

But why would the American or Jamaican government want a reggae legend that sung about peace and love murdered? The Netflix episode included several different theories behind their possible motives. It was suggested the CIA shot Bob Marley due to the Jamaican Prime Minister’s good relationship with Fidel Castro, and out of fear, it would become the next Cuba. Also, Bob Marley’s girlfriend, Cindy Breakspeare said she believed the People National Party attempted the assassination in order to make it look like the Jamaican Labour Party had done it. The idea that his attempted assassination could have been planned and orchestrated to such detail pinpoints the degree of impact Marley had on Jamaican and even world politics.

Despite his influence, Bob Marley himself asserted independence from the political system. The episode commemorated his devotion to neutrality in the fight for peace at a time of polarised politics in Jamaica in the 1976 elections. However, by refusing to get political, Bob Marley did just the opposite. Netflix took advantage of this refreshing reality and presented us with a story of a musician that became a political figure altruistically through his music.

It makes perfect sense that the most breathtaking moment of the one hour special is the 'Smile Jamaica' concert. This was held on December 5th, 1976, two days following the shooting as a benefit for the people of Jamaica. Over 90,000 people watched Marley perform for over an hour, despite planning to only single one or two songs, with a bullet lodged in his arm. Footage of the concert showed the atmosphere of mayhem and of unbelievable noise when Bob Marley arrives on stage. Friends and family of Bob Marley describe the concert as one of the greatest of his life and remember the sea of people present. Marley’s lawyer, Diane Jobson said he was “a proud man bearing the wounds of his battle”. This was more than a concert, it was a moment in history. One that once again, the Establishment took advantage of. Prime Minister Michael Manley scheduled elections to 10 days after the concert and the episode suggests he did this to make it seem like the concert was a political endorsement for the People’s National Party.

Quite similarly to Jamaica in 1976, 2018 has been a year of polarised politics and political turmoil. Although Bob Marley’s decision to not pick a side might not be the way to go for 2018, embracing some of Marley's key messages should be. Protecting people of colour against police brutality and corruption, condemning hate and violence, and respecting the environment are all values that could help our world become a little less grey. In a time where populist leaders such as Trump are in power and climate change is being cast to the side, we need these values more than ever.

Diane Jobson, once again, said it well: “When the Berlin wall was torn down, they were playing Bob Marley music. Anytime in any world crisis, they play Bob Marley music. It is a message that is even more relevant now, even more so than 40 years ago”.

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