Lacey Schwartz Delgado is still trying to sum up her elevator pitch, that is explaining who she is in just a few minutes to anyone briefly sharing her space. The complexity of identity is a subject the Rhinebeck resident and filmmaker has explored for years.
As a principle in the nonprofit multimedia company, TruthAid, Schwartz Delgado and her business partner Mehret Mandefro create media projects aimed at engaging and educating audiences about challenging social issues. The women, who are both writers, producers and filmmakers, met at Harvard when Schwartz Delgado was studying law and Mandefro was studying medicine. Both came to the conclusion that media was the most effective way to promote change.
Schwartz Delgado grew up in Woodstock, graduated cum laude in 1998 from Georgetown University, with a B.A. in Government and a minor in Studio Arts, then received a J.D. from Harvard Law School before deciding to focus on film.
Schwartz Delgado at family passover as a child
Little White Lie, her PBS Independent Lens documentary, tells the story of her own family and the efforts taken to hide her mixed race identity. She grew up in an loving middle class Jewish household, believing that she was white, told by her family that her darker skin was the genetic legacy of a Sicilian ancestor, but while attending Kingston High School, she began to realize their lie, forcing her to reconsider just who she was.
She shared the story of her family’s secrets in Little White Lie, making a film that explored her dual identity and the reality behind her family’s version of the truth. The film not only helped her understand her family but also the way families create a narrative that shapes identity.
“A lot of families have secrets,” said Schwartz Delgado. “They operate in a space where everyone buys into it and then people on the outside communicate disbelief. I felt like it was important to get into understanding how these things happen. The first half of the film is fundamentally doing that, explaining how these things happen, talking about the truth.”
The documentary, became a New York Times Critics Pick.
Truth Aid has since produced several films, including Difret, with executive producer Angelina Jolie.
“That project is a scripted film but it’s based on a true story about two courageous women who fought against the system in Ethiopia,” said Schwartz Delgado. “It deals with female abduction and forced marriage and around that we did a whole campaign using Change.org and working with the State Department to change a lot of the policies and focus on child marriage. We also had Angelina Jolie as an executive producer. She’s a UN ambassador and works on issues around violence against women, so we partnered with her on an issue that she was doing globally.”
Truth Aid also did a documentary series called The Loving Generation, in partnership with Topic.com. The 1967 landmark Loving v. Virginia U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage.
“It’s about a generation of people born with one black and one white parent after Loving v. Virginia,” said Schwartz Delgado. “We’re talking to them about a follow up on that.”
Currently Schwartz Delgado is working with Yoruba Richen, the documentary filmmaker who created the documentary The Green Book: Guide to Freedom, on a film about female African-American entertainers who were also activists. Currently in production, the film is aiming at a 2020 release.
““We shot a lot of it, but not all of it,” said Schwartz Delgado. “We need to do more shooting. The women we focused on are Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, Pam Grier, Nina Simone, Lena Horne, and Abbie Lincoln. We’ve shot with Hallie Berry, Samuel Jackson, and Meagan Good. Alicia Keys is executive producing it. We interviewed her. She’s amazing.”
Schwartz Delgado is excited about this project because it provides a chance to explore the identities of some fascinating women.
“It’s going to be really good because it’s a new way of looking at these women, how they were activists on and off the screen. Sometimes it was their choice of clothing, sometimes it was their choice of roles, sometimes it’s more directly activism.”
For a while, Schwartz Delgado, with her ties to Woodstock, Kingston, and the surrounding towns, was better known in New York’s 19th Congressional District than her husband, attorney Antonio Delgado, but that changed after they moved to Rhinebeck and he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2018. They met at Harvard when she was making a film.
“I stood up at a meeting to get volunteers to be in my film and he volunteered to be in it.”
After Harvard they went their separate ways. Delgado, a Rhodes scholar, explored music, before returning to politics and eventually they reunited. Their wedding was captured at the end of Little White Lie.
“With my film coming out, I was more in the public eye, previously, and obviously now he’s very much so. Now we both kind of are.”
Although her work and marriage ensure that she spends time in the public eye, she would not describe herself as a “quick take person” in an elevator pitch. Making films is a slow process that suits her, giving her a chance to carefully work through her own thoughts and get at the truth of a situation.
“I am somebody who enjoys the process of working through an issue and I think that storytelling helps you do that because it gives you an opportunity to tell a story and then tweak the story and then revise the story in a really enjoyable way.”