"No class of people should have to sacrifice their lives and their heritage for somebody else to get rich," says one of the men interviewed in Nailah Jefferson's wrenching Vanishing Pearls, a must-see documentary. Exhaustively researched and meticulously reported, the film details the ongoing and mounting environmental and economic fallout of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the halfhearted and insufficient reparations BP doled out to Gulf Coast individuals and businesses affected.
At the heart of the film are the struggles of the African-American Encalade family, through whom Jefferson explores multiple historical, political, and cultural narratives: the fact that roughly 90 percent of the domestic seafood industry's oystermen are African-American, going back generations; long-standing practices and legacies of government-sanctioned racism against black oystermen; the collusion between BP and U.S. government officials in covering up or downplaying the scope of the tragedy; and environmental damage so massive it's almost incalculable. Because the national news cycle is geared to the attention span of a goldfish, this still-developing story has fallen off the media radar, even though -- as the film makes clear via interviews with marine biologists, environmentalists, and local fishermen — we haven't even begun to see the real costs of the tragedy.
Except, of course, the many communities along the Gulf Coast whose health, businesses, and heritages have already been decimated as "profit is privatized and risk is socialized."