A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story Takes a Stand Against Bullying
October is Bullying Prevention Month, and in celebration, Adobe is focusing on efforts to increase awareness of the issue and empower kids to stand up to bullying. Read about Adobe’s work with the Ad Council and Ad Council partners on the unprecedented “I Am A Witness” campaign.
Women Rising is a company born out of the insight that women don’t always do a great job supporting each other in the workplace. Its founder and CEO, Sara Bordo, experienced this firsthand working in the advertising industry and then in the entertainment industry. Instead of sitting back and doing nothing, she set out to champion the amazing accomplishments of women in all walks of life.
Sara’s first opportunity to realize her vision came when Women Rising produced and directed TEDxAustinWomen and she met Lizzie Velasquez. Lizzie has a rare syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight, which made her the target of bullying both as a child and later online as a teenager. Her TEDxtalk at the event was overwhelmingly successful, with the English and Spanish versions garnering a combined 10 million views on YouTube in less than a month. After seeing how Lizzie’s talk and the topic of bullying resonated with audiences, Sara wanted to tell her story through a documentary film.
With Bullying Prevention Month in full swing, we talked with Sara about her experience making A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story and how it’s advancing awareness of bullying issues.
Why did you want to make a documentary about Lizzie?Sara: There was so much value, emphasis, and purpose to Lizzie’s message. The majority of bullying stories are about victims not heroes. Lizzie refused to let other people’s opinions define her.
I never had ambition to be a filmmaker, but I do understand how to make people feel. We wanted to make a documentary that wasn’t just a longer version of Lizzie’s TEDtalk. In the last 20 to 30 minutes of the film we follow Lizzie to Washington, D.C. to lobby for The Safe Schools Improvement Act. Every film screening we’ve done has incited a sense of inspiration and hope, along with a little anger and frustration that nothing is being done at the federal level to protect children from bullying.
Why is film particularly useful in raising awareness?
Sara: Film evokes feelings and emotions with a heightened sense of intensity, beauty, and compassion in a way that words alone can’t do. If Lizzie posts something on social media and accompanies it with a video, it changes everything because people can see her face, expression, and body language. We’ve also created a video with a great list of influential supporters who have lent their voices to Lizzie’s cause.
Why do you think the topic of bullying resonates with so many people?Sara: Bullying and the experience around it is such a huge issue. It affects not only the parties involved, but the families on both sides, and the families left behind when things end tragically. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking to students or adults, the common denominator that exists is that we live in a very potent culture of meanness. It is manifesting in schools, online, and even in the workplace.
What was surprising to you about Lizzie’s experience?
Sara: One of the things that surprised me the most was the incessant wave of meanness, negativity, and threats toward Lizzie. I don’t understand why people would follow someone on social media that they don’t like. I also learned along the way that the people causing this meanness are often working on things themselves and taking their issues out on others. I want to encourage people when they see bullying happen online not to bully back. All it does is add to a cycle of negativity.
How will people be able to see the film?
Sara: We wanted a distribution partner that could activate a quick distribution strategy. On September 25, 2015 the film launched in select theaters and also on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and video on demand. We’ve also made the film available for students to request a copy for their teachers, for parents to gift a copy of the film to their children’s school, and for educators and librarians to bring it into schools as well. It’s so important to get the film into the hands of students who need that help and support.
What were your goals with the film?
Sara: I was passionate about Lizzie first and wanted to tell the story of this extraordinary girl. Moving forward I hope the film helps to shine a light on other people doing this work and supports the conversation. More people should know about Tina Meier and the work she is doing for families through the Megan Meier Foundation, what Common Sense Media is doing for educators, and how The Bully Project, founded by Lee Hirsch, is creating tools and resources for educators, students, parents, and advocates.
What can people do to support anti-bullying efforts?
Sara: Lizzie is going back to Capitol Hill at the end of October to fight for the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Right now, people can join the I’m With Lizzie movement and make their voices heard on this issue. Bullying is something that affects everyone.
Lizzie is also an advocate for the #iamawitness campaign, she is featured in this Ad Council video: