Imagine living the first portion of your life as someone who identifies as something completely different than who you are, simply because your family insists they were that type of person. In a way, this is Lacey Schwartz's story and her documentary Little White Lie shows just that. Schwartz, who now is comfortable in her identity as both a black and Jewish woman, spent a large portion of her life believing she was white.
Little White Lie, presents the chronicle of Schwartz's coming-to-terms with her identity and her family's secrets. It's a smart and tightly-edited documentary drawn with narration, home videos, and interviews. It's her parents' story as much as it's hers and Schwartz doesn't shy away from hard truths. It's the kind of film that is immensely draining, yet prompts one to wonder just how cathartic an experience telling your story must be.
When asked about the feeling of being able to share such a personal narrative, Schwartz responded by saying, "Yeah. I think that it comes from kind of being finished with it. And I think sort of my anxiety, not about making the film, but about choices in general, was the expectation of the confrontation and the fear of what the outcome of the confrontation might be."
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Throughout the film, she confronts multiple people - mostly friends, family, and specifically her parents - about the way they see her, as well as the events that transpired in the past (which we won't spoil). "It weighed on me; it was like the fear of conversation was affecting me, so I had to kind of go into that, but it was less painful and scary than I thought it'd be. Getting past it was really relieving, and yeah, I guess cathartic, and having the film out there and having people see it has been amazing. Because I feel like the response and the way people connect to it and the way it speaks to them really means a lot," Schwartz said.
"A lot of why I was doing it was because I believe in the power of having these conversations," she added. And that's exactly what the filmmaker will be doing at the Miami Jewish Film Festival on January 19th when she introduces and participates in a conversation with the audience after her film premiere.
And while her situation isn't exactly a common one, it has inspired a lot of individuals to tell their own family narratives through text, photo, and video posts on a Tumblr blog. She described the site, stories.littlewhiteliethefilm.com, as " an interactive project we're building around [the film] where you can see how other people have shared their stories." All kinds of family secrets - about race, religion, or sexuality populate the site, some lament their situations, others hopeful of a chance to heal.
In Little White Lie, Schwartz traces her discovery and the pains of her healing process. In the process she delves into the racial politics of both friends and family. When asked how she felt about some of the responses she received, Schwartz acknowledged that racial discussions were difficult, rarely are they a black and white situation.
"That's something we don't talk about a lot on a regular basis and I think that with family, I grew up in a space where you really feel you couldn't talk about race, but it was almost like a concept where I don't want to say people were totally oblivious to it, but it wasn't really part of that reality. So were there are moments where I felt I was not seen by my family because of my experience? Absolutely, but at the same time, I also understand both sides of this," Schwartz said.
The filmmaker also recorded her therapy sessions after the discovery. Much of the film is about looking into the past in order to expose it, but that kind of exposition is hard to imagine. "I thought it'd be helpful'" she said, "to use as a way to access my inner self and use it as a piece at the beginning and showing what that represented in helping me have that conversation." More importantly, it wasn't like she had someone else telling her what could or couldn't be in her own film. She adds,"I'm the director of the film so I was in control of what gets used."
And it's because of that that we get such a detailed portrait of a woman who genuinely struggled with her identity. A striking moment from the documentary presents a diary entry she wrote when she was a young girl in which she filled in the two blanks in the sentence "the thing I like best about myself is ____, but if I could choose to change something about myself I'd want ____" with "my curly hair" and "lighter skin".
That kind of scene begs the question as to whether or not more representation of people of color - either in film or television - would have helped her through those younger years, with films about young black women feeling as limited as ever. When asked if she believes it would have helped to see mixed-race women like herself in media, she answers, "Oh definitely," and specifies that what there needs to be more of is "this idea of looking at difference, not necessarily racial, and what are norms and how are norms reinforced; it's very powerful."
That's exactly what her production company, Truth Aid, does. Their mission is to inspire social change by producing multimedia content that shows underrepresented perspectives, combining it with thoughtful, engaging, outreach programming that is transformative. When asked if she'd be doing any narrative features in addition to this documentary, Schwartz mentioned that they've already produced a narrative called Difret and definitely plan on making more documentaries and features.
But that doesn't mean her work with Little White Lie is anywhere near over. As a final note, Schwartz told us everything that her deserving film has in store in the upcoming months.
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"We're doing film festivals, we're doing community screenings, we're doing educational screenings, we're bringing the film to Israel in two weeks and doing a tour with the state department, we're participating in a program called Film Forward in partnership with the Sundance Institute and the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which is about advancing cultural dialogue. We were one of the ten films chosen this year, and then we're going to be on PBS in March."
Little White Lie will be playing at Regal South Beach Cinema on Monday, January 19, at 6:30 p.m. as part of the Miami Jewish Film Festival. Tickets cost $13. Visit miamijewishfilmfestival.net.