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Director exposes family secret in ‘Little White Lie‘

Colette Greenstein | 11/13/2014, 9:37 a.m.
Director Lacey Schwartz documents her discovery of her black roots in her film, Little White Lie
Little White Lie Director Lacey Schwartz holds a Torah in this family photo. Lacey explores a facet of her family history in this documentary, which explores her dual identities as a black woman who is also Jewish.

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Woodstock, N.Y., as the only child of Peggy and Robert Schwartz. Her parents were loving and supportive throughout her childhood and instilled a very strong sense of self in Lacey along with a strong Jewish identity. Yet for all her similarities with her parents, Lacey was different. She didn’t look white and she had a darker complexion than anyone else in her family.

Lacey always believed her family’s explanation that her looks were inherited from her dark-skinned Sicilian paternal grandfather. But when her parents abruptly split during her late teens, she finally began to acknowledge the doubts and questions that had been brewing inside her about who she really was and why she looked so different from her friends and family. When she finally gets the nerve to question her mother, Lacey learned the truth about her identity and began to explore what it means to be black and Jewish.

The filming of what became Little White Lie began while she was attending Harvard Law School, although she had been creating video diaries since her undergrad years at Georgetown University. The now-37-year-old is a filmmaker and the CEO of Truth Aid, a non-profit production company whose mission is in producing strong, quality filmmaking. In addition to her career as a filmmaker, Schwartz also does programming around racial and ethnic diversity. She recently spoke to the Banner about her story.

How did the documentary come about?

Lacey Schwartz: I already knew that I was bi-racial black but I wasn’t really talking about it. I was really fascinated about all the choice diversity and researching black Jews around the world. I thought maybe I would talk about that but I thought, ‘Well, that’s a great topic, but what’s the story?’ because I don’t think a good topic makes a good film. I realized what is great about this idea of controlling our own destiny and the fact that you can look at society and there’s lots of separation between communities. You can talk about tension between different communities and how different communities come together.

I was fascinated by people who were living with these dual identities internally. These communities are coming together within individuals. What was that like? What was that like to have to wrestle with those dual identities? I started pushing, ‘what’s the story?’ I was so fluent with those issues. I was figuring out how to incubate my own identity. I realized rather than talking about those issues on a mass level, I really had to “walk the walk and talk the talk” and go through this experience for myself, and integrate my own identity, and figure out to how work out my families’ secrets. Once I was able to do that then I could talk about the larger issues.

How is your relationship with your parents today?

I feel like we all have to gradually deal with guilt and things. That was the big part that I went through and I was grateful in how people handled things. I said in the film that it wasn’t about me. We aren’t always going to feel the same way. We’re not always going to be together. It’s not always like that. My parents were willing to go through this with me and were willing to do it. We’ve definitely come through the other side. I’m not going to say we’re all exactly on the same page but my mother, I think she’s really proud of it. I think the film has taught her to stop lying and to live more authentically.