Reggae star Buju Banton, who was sentenced this past June to ten years on federal drug charges, isn't in the best financial shape. A bank recently foreclosed on his Tamarac duplex, and he's got a hefty legal tab to work off after going through two trials, the first of which ended in a hung jury.
Ricky Jason, a Texas-based documentarian, told New Times that he's now donating a portion of sales of his film Byrd: The Life & Tragic Death of James Byrd, Jr. to the Buju Banton Defense Fund.
The documentary, as its name implies, chronicles the life and brutal murder of James Byrd Jr. Three white guys in 1998 chained Byrd, a black guy, to the back of their truck and dragged him for three miles through Jasper, Texas.
Byrd's death sparked national outrage and drew widespread media coverage.
Jason said his decision to donate to Buju -- who has long been a source of contention in the U.S. for certain antigay lyrics -- came after reading through the court documents and learning about the prosecution's use of a confidential informant with questionable motives.
"I couldn't believe the United States government could just do a person this way," Jason said. "So I decided to donate a percentage of the DVD sales from Byrd: The Life & Tragic Death of James Byrd, Jr."
As an interesting side note, Jason partly attributes his dedication to raising awareness on issues of social justice to the legendary Bob Hope.
"At the age of 9, I had six cornea transplants," he says. "The doctor said I wasn't ever going to be able to see."
Jason's mother wrote to a school in Texas owned by Hope, and Hope ended up paying for the surgeries Jason needed to keep his sight.
"I then decided that I just wanted to help people with my life," Jason said.
The trailer for Byrd: The Life & Tragic Death of James Byrd, Jr. is below. Click here if you want to buy a copy.
Ricky Jason called after this post expressing concern with the headline and the assertion that the documentary is very depressing. Byrd: The Life & Tragic Death of James Byrd, Jr., he said, is an award-winning film that has been recognized by the NAACP. Jason said his film is not depressing and rather it focuses on Byrd Jr. as a person and family man.
Jason also noted that his team met and had lengthy discussions on whether to decide to donate the proceeds to the Buju Banton Defense Fund.
The Buju Banton Defense Support Committee also responded, noting that the Grammy-award winning artist's case is currently going through an appeal process. The appeal argues that Buju was entrapped into tasting cocaine in 2009 at a Sarasota warehouse.
The case against Buju, which is the focus of a forthcoming New Times article, relied heavily on the work of a confidential informant.