“White people will think anything,” says a guy named Matt in Lacey Schwartz’s documentary, Little White Lie.
Matt was Schwartz’s high school boyfriend. He makes his pronouncement about white people after she goes back to interview him for her film, which is about discovering she’s not white as she always thought. Little White Lie tells the story of what happened when Schwartz — who grew up in a Jewish household in Woodstock, N.Y. — found out her biological father was a black man with whom her mother had an affair.
A New York Times Critics’ Pick when it opened in New York in November, it screens in Kansas City on Wednesday. The man responsible for bringing it here hopes it sparks a useful discussion.
“I just think it would be great if we could have a better dialogue between the Jewish community and the black community here in town.
I know there are efforts made but it seems we could do more,” says Leib Dodell, an attorney and insurance executive who serves on the board of directors of the Urban League of Kansas City, which is presenting the film along with the Jewish Community Relations Bureau.
Filmmaker Schwartz will be on hand for a Q&A after the show.
“It’s obviously a very personal film but it’s one that hits on larger issues of identity, family secrets and race,” Schwartz says. “Fundamentally it’s about difficult conversations and the power of having them. We’re hoping people come out of watching this film and be able to talk about their ‘little white lies’ and what gave them motivation for sharing them, not holding them back.”
Schwartz says she decided to make the film after a period of time living in what she considered to be “a racial closet,” and out of a need to integrate her two identities.
“For me, being Jewish was synonymous with being white. I set out to understand what it was to be both black and Jewish. Until I was able to have an honest conversation with my own family, I wasn’t able to fully integrate my identity. So I’m trying to model the process of having difficult conversations about family secrets. The psychological dynamic and the power of denial is something that’s really quite common.”
If families can’t have those difficult conversations, Schwartz says, neither can communities.
“Families are the building blocks of society,” she notes. “How can we expect the larger society to talk about this productively if families aren’t able to? That’s the importance of looking at family secrets — if you can’t even talk about these issues in your family, you can’t talk about it in churches or synagogues.”
As for her old boyfriend Matt and his comment that white people will think anything? He’s biracial, so he knows.
“He’s referring to groups of people living one reality," Schwartz says, "while other people who are lacking race consciousness aren’t even in touch with that reality.”
Little White Lie screens at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 7, at Screenland Crown Center, 2450 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. Doors open at 7. A Q&A with Lacey Schwartz takes place immediately after the film. Tickets ($10 suggested donation) are available here.