By Raleigh Basinger
When Lacey Schwartz was 18, she discovered a family secret that changed her life.
“Little White Lies,” a documentary about her experience, screened on Tuesday as part of the Youngstown Area Jewish Film Festival. YSU English professor Tiffany Anderson conducted an interview with Schwartz at the Labor and Industry Museum on Wednesday.
“The film is a personal documentary,” Schwartz said. “It’s about my story of growing up in a white Jewish family and finding out that my biological father is black. My mother had an affair and nobody talked about it.”
The film explores the effect that had on her identity, and how she learned to heal from it, Schwartz said. She felt like her identity was a lie, because she grew up believing she was white, because both her parents were white.
“I knew I always looked different,” Schwartz said. “The story was, I looked different [from] my family because my father’s great-grandfather was dark-skinned Sicilian.”
She had suspicions about her true ethnicity, she said. Then, when she was 18, she found out her mother had an affair with an African-American man named Rodney. Schwartz knew him as a family friend.
“My mom lived this lie for so long, but continued to lie and couldn’t get past it,” Schwartz said. “She feels like it is therapeutic for her, because for so long she couldn’t stop lying and I stepped forward and helped her end these lies. I dug deeper and helped strengthen the relationship.”
She went to Georgetown University, but didn’t identify her ethnicity. Based on the photograph she sent with her application, she was admitted as a black student.
Anderson asked if Schwartz felt “less Jewish” after finding out she is black.
“I didn’t feel any less Jewish, but I felt confused about how to reconcile two identities,” Schwartz said. “I had grown up taught that being Jewish was being white. It was a certain way to be Jewish.”
When asked if her children would be raised Jewish, Schwartz said yes.
After Schwartz graduated from Georgetown, she went to Harvard Law School. She decided to take an undergraduate film class, where she fell in love with filmmaking.
Instead of writing a paper for her third year project, she created a video about how her and her friends were affected by the stress of having such a rigorous curriculum.
“You’re gathering students who are supposedly the best and brightest, and you’re kind of breaking them down,” she said.
The reason she went to law school was because she wanted to make an impact on issues she cares about. She discovered she could inspire change by creating films that highlight issues like race.