Critics' Pick

Little White Lie (NR)

Documentary 66 min. November 21, 2014
By Diana Clarke
In Woodstock, New York, at the end of the 20th century, Lacey Schwartz was raised in an affluent Jewish household where something was slightly off. Darker-skinned than her mother and father, Schwartz fielded probing questions about her race from a young age but refused to entertain the possibility that she was not the biological offspring of her two white parents. When Lacey was in high school, her parents' marriage collapsed, and so did the veneer of her identity. Schwartz's subsequent investigation resulted in this profound and engaging documentary.

Taking charge of her obfuscated story, Schwartz gets behind the camera to interview childhood friends, parents, relatives — and learns that her mother, married at 21 to her first boyfriend, once had a lover named Rodney, a black man. What follows is a beautiful, intimate, and complex exploration -- of Schwartz's anger at her mother for lying, her relief at learning the truth and identifying as a mixed-race woman, her yearning for connection with the men her mother loved.

Schwartz is a sympathetic narrator — smart, funny, kind — and a talented interviewer. Her investigation of family secrets and analytical revisiting of nostalgic childhood memories alone would make for an excellent film. Her real power, though, comes from the film's nuanced engagement with the most difficult of American discussions about race, family and identity. Who gets to be black or white? Is race inherited or constructed? Can we choose a family that doesn't look like us, and will they ever be able to understand who we are? At synagogues, basketball courts, and black-students organizations at Georgetown, Schwartz brings generosity to conversations most of us are too scared to have out loud.
Lacey Schwartz, James Adolphus Mehret Mandefro, Lacey Schwartz Lacey Schwartz, Mehret Mandefro

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