As we all know, Netflix is the Steph Curry of the documentary game. They have really stepped it up in terms of that genre and I have discovered some excellent gems that I otherwise would not have seen. The documentary film Little White Lie, directed by Lacey Schwartz, is one of those gems.
i If you look to the featured image above, one would see many different things; a woman, a young girl, maybe a bride? If we want to break down her physical characteristics, one could say she is “light-skinned” or “exotic”. But, one wouldn’t necessarily deem her as “white” given the hints of melanin in her skin. But, Lacey, until she was college-aged, spent her idyllic life in Woodstock, New York with white, Jewish parents believing she was a normal Jewish girl. Her café au lait skin was a buried, hushed topic. The one time it did come up, her father believed that a Sicilian ancestor passed Lacey’s skin tone and hair texture down. For 21 years, Lacey Schwartz was “white”, the photo above taken at her bat mitzvah.
I think this documentary was so poignant because Lacey is so honest and raw in exposing her family’s tendencies to lie about the “unmentionables”. To her peers, clearly Lacey wasn’t entirely white like she said. It shows how ignorant adults believe children are; that if they choose to ignore something, it doesn’t exist. The entire film, Lacey recollects the experiences she lived in Woodstock with friends and family members, who literally saw her everyday and chose to stay silent about the fact she looked different. At one point in the film, Lacey revisits her biracial high school boyfriend, Matt, a cute, green-eyed young man who says “White people will believe anything”. Matt, you have no idea how true that statement is. Lacey’s peers all surrounded her and, though secretly had qualms about her parentage, were content in believing she was just “tan”.
When I look at Lacey, she looks like so many biracial girls I’ve seen before. So, almost immediately, I was like “Oh, she’s mixed”. So when she tells her story, I was flabbergasted! I mean, come on. There are certain traits that people of African descent have; whether it be body structure, hair texture, voice, and of course, deeper skin tone. Although Lacey favors her mother in some ways, Lacey was black to me, another black female, right off jump.
We find out (spoiler alert, but not really!) that Lacey, of course, was actually black. Her mother Peggy had an almost decade-long affair with a lighter-skinned black man who was a well-respected basketball coach in Brooklyn before his death. The victim of this, other than Lacey, was Lacey’s cuckolded father, Robert. We can literally see the pain and embarrassment on his face when they finally discuss the matter towards the end of the film, where Lacey assures him that even though they share no biological relationship, he is her father. I had to hold back tears. It’s very apparent how much Robert cares and loves Lacey, but the scars of Peggy’s lies cut him deeply. Not exactly the most sympathetic character, Peggy was in love with both men and chose her desires over the feelings of others. She was young and didn’t understand the consequences of her actions. She recounts that at 21, she was put in charge of the Nostrand Ave. playground in Brooklyn, which is in a predominantly black neighborhood. It would’ve been around 1968-1969, when racial tensions were exploding after the assassination of Dr. King. She remembers, “Here I was, 21-years-old, a white Jewish woman and I was in charge of this playground?!”. She fell in love but knew realistically that she could never truly be with the black man, so she settled for Robert, who she described as the “nice Jewish boy”. It was what was expected, and she followed suit. But, I understand Peggy, and being a woman, and having passion and emotion, and making decision based on those instead of logic and reason.
I encourage you to give Little White Lie a watch. It was a very personal micro-level look at how racial relations are like in America. It has always been skin-deep. Lacey was raised Jewish, with good, stable parents and though they divorced, they still love her. And unfortunately, though her father Robert suffered, the love he has for his daughter is more than some biological fathers have for their children.
Though she identifies as a biracial, Jewish woman, she holds her head up high as we see her marry a handsome African-American man at the end of the film. She knows who she is finally and can begin a future with her beloved partner. Lacey Schwartz is a gorgeous, talented filmmaker who portrayed her family’s interesting history with voracity, patience, and persistence in order for the secrets to become unburied. I applaud this film and I hope you, no matter what color you are, can take its messages to heart and think critically about your own family and the possible secrets they may harbor. You can only begin to heal since communication is incorporated into one’s life.
Image via blog.indiewire.com
Little White Lie dir. Lacey Schwartz, PBS. 2015.
Available on Netflix Instant Stream