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Suffolk’s Ford Hall Forum talks the complexities of race and family in “Little White Lie”
December 5, 2018
On Nov. 27, Suffolk’s Modern Theater was packed for a screening and discussion with the director of the 2014 film “Little White Lie.”
The personal documentary follows American filmmaker Lacey Schwartz as she uncovers her family’s hidden secrets and the truth behind her identity. “I actually grew up thinking I was white,” said Schwartz in the opening scenes of the film.
The film uses home videos, interviews with family and friends and anecdotes from her own life to tell her story. Her parents, Peggy and Robert Schwartz are white Jews living in Woodstock, New York. They only had one daughter, and when Lacey was born, it was obvious that she was black. For most of her youth, her parents explained that her dark skin came from Sicilian ancestors on her father’s side of the family. This rationalization was accepted by Lacey, her father and the rest of her family.
Acknowledging her true identity would mean her mother would have to admit to an affair with another man. This would also mean that Lacey’s biological father was not the man who raised her.
Upon returning home from college, Schwartz confronted her mother about her blackness. She finally admitted to an extramarital affair with an African-American man named Rodney, who was Schwartz’s biological father. This revelation gave Schwartz a completely new understanding of her identity and allowed her to embrace her African-American heritage. “Being true to myself meant being both black and white,” she said during the film.
Following the screening of the documentary, professor Shoshana Madmoni-Gerber sat down with Schwartz to discuss the creation of the film and to allow audience members to ask questions.
One woman spoke about how Schwartz’s mother made a comment during the film that the lie only came out because the man she had an affair with was black. This opened up a dialogue about family secrets.
“Family secrets are rampant and it’s very easy to look at other people’s families and think ‘oh my god how could they do that’ but the reality is a majority of people have these things going on and they’re not talking about them, and why can’t we talk about them?” said Schwartz.
She spoke about how her family’s story is not unique and how people all across the globe have reached out to her with similar stories. Schwartz hoped that her film would open up a dialogue within society so that people can have these difficult discussions in a healthy way.
“This happens all over the place,” said Schwartz. “Fundamentally my mother is irrelevant, and I’m irrelevant. Really it’s about how these family secrets are operating within our society and deep down affecting the health of our societies and our communities and our families.”
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