Nailah Jefferson’s “Vanishing Pearls” Chronicles BP Spill’s Destruction Of Black Oyster Fishermen Industry



In recent months BP commercials have been plugging the air waves attesting to the company’s accountability and integrity.

The purpose of the commercials seems to be clearing the BP name after the Deep water Horizon Disaster that spilled approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. However, filmmaker Nailah Jefferson must be a thorn in the side of that campaign — she is the director and producer of the documentary “Vanishing Pearls,” which chronicles the destruction of the Black Oyster fishermen industry in Pointe a la Hache, Louisiana after the spill.

According to Vanishing Pearls the spill devastated Gulf sea life and the ability of the fishermen who relied on that sea life to make a living. Many of the fishermen had their claims for compensation denied and some lost their homes and now live on $200 food stamps per week.

Jefferson herself is from New Orleans, Louisiana. She previously worked as an Executive Assistant to Lee Daniels, the famous producer and director of such films as The Butler, Monster’s Ball, and Precious. After being down-sized from the Daniels production company, Ms. Jefferson returned to New Orleans, eventually forming her own production company, Perspective Pictures.

Looking for a project to film, Jefferson did not have long to wait; the son in law of Byron Encalade the President of Louisiana Oysterman Association and main character of the documentary pitched her the plight of the predominantly Black fisherman in Pointe a la  Hache. 

Jefferson wasted no time deciding it was going to be her first project for her new production company. Jefferson endeavored to tell the tale of these little known fishermen in what would become a three-and-a-half year shoot and cost $180,000.

The film documents the struggle led by Encalade in their fight to receive just compensation for the loss of their livelihoods; a profession the fishermen also take great pride in.  Fishing in Pointe a la Hache was their source of income as well as for the food they ate themselves. In one poignant moment in the film, Encalade, while eating a raw oyster, declares — we don’t have to go to the grocery store. 

The spill disrupted this great culture and heritage; if it’s not destroyed who knows for how long it’s been halted. The fishermen inherited this legacy passed on to them and hope to pass it on to the next generation. Fathers and grandfathers looked forward to teaching their sons how to fish.

Perhaps this loss is the greatest loss of all.

Vanishing Pearls in currently playing in select cities, check the AFFRM website for times and locations.



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