SXSW Review: A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story


The topic of bullying seems to be a mysterious one. It's talked about quite often, with advocates both young and old rallying for it to be taken seriously within school systems. And yet, legislatures don't think it's an issue worth fighting for. A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story is a documentary film that shows us what the fight against bullying looks like in reality.

You might recognize Lizzie Velasquez right away. Diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder from birth, she was given the heartbreaking title of "World's Ugliest Woman" by an online YouTube bully at the age of 17, sparking millions of comments about her appearance. Her disorder, which is discussed more in the film, is one that makes her unable to gain weight (at 25, her current weight is only 58 pounds).

What makes Lizzie's story so unique is that instead of letting that incident bring her down, it sparked a flame that has since erupted into a movement. In 2013, she was asked to do a TED Talk here in Austin about how bullying effected her, and how she decided to devote her time to creating a YouTube channel that spreads internet encouragement and advice for those struggling with similar situations. Since then, she's spoken to thousands of people all over the country, not to mention countries outside of the U.S. The doc shows us what daily life is like for her: getting recognized everywhere she goes, making her daily YouTube videos, even tackling Washington by pushing to create an anti-bullying bill.

As someone who was bullied in school, I wept throughout this entire movie. I related to her struggle so much, and I knew that others in the audience did as well. First-time director Sara Hirsh Bordo captures Lizzie's world in a subtle way, allowing you to focus on her family life and present endeavors. But she also takes the time to show you Lizzie's vulnerable moments, reminding her audience that even the strongest people need support as well.

So many parts of A Brave Heart made me feel anger instead of sadness. Anger that people, primarily kids, think that it's okay to treat someone like Lizzie differently. It makes me wonder what we are (or are not) teaching children to make them think it's acceptable to call someone weird or ugly. But I realized that that is what separates Lizzie from others: she doesn't let that anger get to her. Instead, she uses it to do good, and be a voice for those who might be afraid or ashamed to speak up.

In a world where people hide behind cell phones and computer screens, it's uplifting to know there are still people who want to tell you their story, face-to-face. I have a feeling that Sara and Lizzie, along with this documentary, are about to make big strides in creating a community where this issue no longer exists. And I'm behind them 100 percent.

Austin/Texas connections: A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story was shot locally. Lizzie Velasquez is a native Austinite who attended Texas State University in San Marcos. Filmmaker Sara Hirsh Bordo is from Austin -- as is most of the crew, including cinematographer Ben Powell (who directed another SXSW doc, Barge).

To learn more about Lizzie Velasquez, read Jordan's recent interview with her.