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Houston Neighborhood Promised to Be a Haven for Her Formerly Enslaved Family. Then the Oil Boom Hit

In "God Save Texas: The Price of Oil," Alex Stapleton interviews family members whose lives have been impacted while living in the shadow of oil refineries

<p>Courtesy of HBO</p> Alex Stapleton

Courtesy of HBO

Alex Stapleton

Filmmaker Alex Stapleton is known for her sports-focused work, but in her latest project, her family takes center stage.

In God Save Texas: The Price of Oil — part 2 of a trilogy of documentaries, all currently available to stream on Max — the Houston native takes on the weighty topics of environmental justice and racism while examining their impact on her extended family, who have lived in the shadow of Houston's oil refineries for generations, which has taken a toll on their health.

Many in Stapleton's extended family have developed asthma, she says, while one aunt has battled a flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis as well as cancer, which she believes is related to living alongside the hazardous materials.

"We have been introduced to so many different environmental issues that could cause problems," Stapleton's aunt, Barbara Jefferson, says in the doc.

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For Stapleton, 43, her family's story begins over a century ago in nearby Galveston, where her ancestors were enslaved.

Many years later, family members who lived in Houston were able to transition from the inner-city Fifth Ward, and its homes on stilts, to Pleasantville. The middle-class neighborhood, where homes had foundations and mortgages, was created in the late 1940s by a Jewish land developer for Black and Jewish military veterans who faced housing discrimination.

<p>Courtesy of HBO</p>

Courtesy of HBO

But decades later, Pleasantville doesn't live up to its name.

Thanks to the city’s rise, when it became known as the Energy Capital of the World, an unwelcome mini-skyline of towering refineries and warehouses — which produce environmental hazards like toxic chemicals — began encroaching on people's homes and impacting their lives.

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Stapleton, who focuses on the historical implications of the city's history rather than calling out specific entities, argues that what has happened to her family is something even most Texans or Houston residents don't know about, which is why their story is so important.

“This is what a fence-line community looks like and feels like,” she tells PEOPLE, noting that it's one thing to think about environmental racism in the abstract, but another to be confronted with real-world examples.

"Look at this house that's right next to a tank that's storing hazardous chemicals," she says. “We're not even allowed to know what's in it because the state of Texas does not grant that information to its citizens."

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“I think it's important for people to understand these are historical problems,” Stapleton says. “It's not just like we woke up in 2016 and it's a part of the resistance to talk about X, Y, and Z, or that it's just something that's very new or that's made up.”

"These communities are targeted," she adds. "Black and Brown communities in Houston, Texas, have been targeted intentionally for decades. And so I hope that people, through my family's story, get to understand how it happens.”

God Save Texas: The Price of Oil is currently available to stream on Max and premieres on HBO Wednesday.

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Read the original article on People.