The Biggest Truth: Filmmaker Lacey Schwartz on identity, politics and “Little White Lie”
It’s 6:30 on a Monday morning, and I’m on the phone with Lacey Schwartz. It’s the only time she could carve out to talk. Of course. Schwartz is a very busy woman. The Rhinebeck-based filmmaker is the CEO of Truth Aid, a multimedia content “machine” that creates compelling narratives (through extensive research) to affect social change. She is also mother to twin five-year-old boys and is the “incredible partner” (his words) of NY congressional candidate Antonio Delgado, a native of Schenectady whom Schwartz met while both were students at Harvard Law School.
“Oh wow, it’s our wedding anniversary today,” Schwartz says. “It’s been a whirlwind. We’ve done a lot in the last seven years!”
Footage of that Schwartz-Delgado wedding, which is a powerful visual amalgam of ethnicity and culture, appears in a 2015 documentary that Schwartz produced, wrote and “starred” in. “Little White Lie” is an hour-long deep dive into the secret that ruled Schwartz’s life as an upper-middle-class “white” Jewish girl from Woodstock, New York. She discovers, at 18, that her biological father is an African-American basketball talent scout, a man with whom her mother had an affair, and not the man who raised her. There will be a screening of “Little White Lie” on Sunday, October 14 at 1 p.m. at the The Moviehouse in Millerton, NY and Schwartz will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A session.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time I don’t watch the film during the screening. I show up at the end,” says Schwartz. “Once we did a screening in partnership with a correctional facility, so I sat in the room with the inmates and watched it with them. That was interesting, to see what they reacted to.”
For Schwartz, the content of the documentary is now its own thing. It carries a message, it gets people talking about identity and secrets, but for her, it is something that she has come to terms with completely.
“For me it was really about capturing the process, and that led me out to the other side, so to speak,” she says. “I’m so at peace with it, I look at it as a completed thing in terms of myself and who I am.”
This wasn’t always the case. Schwartz says she was in a “racial closet” for the better part of a decade, not knowing how to dive into the conversation with her family and friends about the elephant in the room.
“I definitely carried a lot of anxiety about being my full self. I became very good at compartmentalizing all the aspects of my life. I was the protector of secrets.”
And there were a lot of people keeping a lot of secrets. Before her parents divorced (when Schwartz was still in high school), she lived a decidedly protected life. A “bubble” in which “being Jewish was synonymous with being white.” Her light brown complexion was, as the family narrative unfolded, a gift from her Sicilian grandfather on her father’s side. And her mother Peggy has curly hair, so that needed no explanation. The lie manufactured easily. Except for Schwartz, who set out on a journey to tell the truth that, not ironically, would set her free.
“I kept forcing the conversation and moving forward, I knew my relationship with my dad would be different,” she says. “But there was this huge sense of relief for me. My mother felt the same thing, I think. That relief.”
Schwartz is 41 now, and “Little White Lie” has a life of its own. It is shown at schools, community events and, yes, at correctional facilities. There is even a Truth Circle card game that touches on themes of identity, family and authenticity, all related to the film. It has legs, but to Schwartz, it has always been a coming-of-age story at its core. One that has shaped who she is today.
“We live in a society that seems to be neutral, but it’s not,” she says. “I’ve gotten to a certain point in my life where I’m questioning all the biases and the norms, my own included. Accountability can be quite healing. We have to keep on doing the work.”
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