Bullying is a subject that historically yields heartbreaking stories of hopelessness and, in many times, loss. Rarely is there a story of survival and inspiration that continues to crossover ages, genders and ethnicities… enter the brave story of Lizzie Velasquez.
Lizzie and I met when I asked her to give a talk at the first TEDxAustinWomen event, which I was producing. She was a local hero whose time, we found out shortly after, had arrived. It was quickly clear that Lizzie’s philosophy on her health and her experiences was as rare as her syndrome that mystified geneticists worldwide.
We live in a culture of tremendous meanness. And few people have experienced it more than Lizzie. Bullying first became a reality when she entered kindergarten and the whispers and the pointing began because Lizzie looked different. At seventeen, discovering “The World’s Ugliest Woman” video, with its 8 seconds of Lizzie’s face, its 4 million views and its thousands of comments including KILL IT WITH FIRE, presented Lizzie with a choice. Lizzie chose to not give up, but to forgive and to thrive; as an author, as a speaker and now as an activist.
Just recently, in September 2014, the World Health Organization published that every forty seconds, someone takes their own life. When we arrived in Washington DC to help lobby for The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), the first federal bill with potential to reach the floor for a congressional vote, Lizzie asked the question repeatedly, “How Many MORE?” How many more kids do we have to lose to being bullied and discriminated against because they look or act different? Lizzie wanted to go to Washington in hopes that her personal testimony might make a difference, to require data collection of kids being bullied in school. At the end of filming, Lizzie’s efforts helped garner a record two hundred and eight co-sponsors for the bill. This was more support than over eight years of congressional efforts.
What I wanted to show is that this is Lizzie’s film, but it is everyone’s story. Our record-breaking Kickstarter campaign yielded support from sixteen countries and proved that Lizzie’s message knew no limits and that hope has no demographic. From sixty-five-year-old veterans giving their retirement checks over to the campaign in California, to twelve-year-old girls doing lemonade stands in the UK, to Lizzie’s church members taking out second jobs so they could contribute at home here in Texas, she found support from all over the world and across all ages.
Lizzie had already proved to more than ten million TED talk viewers that she was worth listening to. My job was to show Lizzie’s full potential beyond just the TED talk. Where does the strength and bravery in Lizzie’s fragile fifty-eight-pound body come from? How does she battle an unknown syndrome in the hospital one morning and speak on stage to thousands that afternoon? Simply put, to Lizzie and her family, her journey has never been about the start and end dates on our life, but the dash in between.
A BRAVE HEART: The Lizzie Velasquez Story will premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX on Saturday, March 14. Watch the official trailer: