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Lacey Schwartz grew up thinking she was white. When her college labeled her a black student based on a photograph, she knew she had to get some explanations from her family. Those conversations formed the foundation of her new PBS documentary Little White Lie. She shares how she convinced her parents to talk about tough topics on camera and why documentaries like hers are in danger of being pushed out of primetime on some PBS stations.

Photo: Young Lacey and her parents, Robert and Peggy

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'Little White Lie' 20 MIN, 49 SEC

Growing up, Jewish filmmaker Lacey Schwartz was told by her family that she had dark skin because she took after her Sicilian great-grandfather. The truth was not so simple: the man Schwartz had always known as "daddy" was not her biological father; her mother's black lover was.

Schwartz documents the discovery of her racial identity and unveiling of a big family secret in her new film, Little White Lie. The film recently aired on PBS.

When we sat down with Schwartz, she shared how she convinced her family to take part in the film, and how her relationship with her parents has evolved as the film has garnered more attention, including an article in the New York Times.

Little White Lie, is the first film for Schwartz, whose interest in filmmaking started while she was studying law. At first, she thought she'd like to be an entertainment lawyer, but came to realize there were topics surrounding her experience as seeing the world through the eyes of both a white woman and a black woman she wanted to explore, and the best way to do that could be through film.

Photo by Michael Hill

Schwartz's documentary has played at many film festivals, and had its national television debut on the PBS show Independent Lens. But now, small, independent films like Schwartz's are in danger of being pushed out of primetime as big PBS stations like WNET in New York chase higher ratings.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Norman Lear asked if PBS is neglecting its public mission by downgrading docs.  He pointed out that these films provide a forum for minority filmmakers and feature diverse characters, attracting more black viewers than other PBS programs.

Schwartz stands with other filmmakers in hoping POV and Independent Lens keep their primetime slot on WNET. A decision is expected to be announced in May, but in the meantime, Schwartz says viewers need to let their PBS stations know what they'd like to see.

Lucey Schwartz, documentary filmmaker (@laceyschwartz)

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