A Brave Heart's Lizzie Velasquez presses Congress on stalled legislation, as her Oscar hopes get boost
Update: Lifetime channel to air A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story starting Monday, October 17 at 8pm et
Members of Congress on the fence about anti-bullying legislation are finding themselves confronted by a diminutive Dynamo.
Lizzie Velasquez, star of the new documentary A Brave Heart, appeared on Capitol Hill Tuesday to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require schools to enhance anti-bullying efforts and to collect data on bullying incidents.
She returned to the Hill today to meet with Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Later in the day she will host a screening of the documentary for lawmakers who control the fate of the legislation. According to the Washington Post, the bill has been stuck in House and Senate committees for eight years.
The film, which just qualified for the Best Documentary Oscar race, reveals how Velasquez became a bullying victim at a young age.
[Update: Lifetime will begin airing the documentary starting Monday, October 17 at 8pm ET/7pm CT]
When she first went to school in Austin, Texas classmates ostracized her, fearful of her unorthodox appearance -- the result of a very rare and little-understood medical condition. But over time, and with the support of a very loving family, she won over fellow students. In high school she even joined the cheerleading team.
At age 17 all the good will and self-esteem she had accumulated was decimated by a discovery she made on the Internet: an eight-second video of Velasquez that labeled her "world's ugliest woman." It had already exceeded four million views. Many commenters urged her to kill herself.
A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, directed by Sara Hirsh Bordo, explores how Velasquez surmounted that unimaginably horrible experience, going on to graduate from college and to become a motivational speaker and anti-bullying advocate.
I met Velasquez in Hollywood recently where she explained how she maintained a positive outlook in the midst of circumstances many might find unbearable.
"Once I started high school I decided I was going to eliminate the word 'why' from my vocabulary because it just led me down this [negative] path and never got me anywhere," she said. "So I just completely took it out and I still to this day don't ever really use that word."
As Velasquez tries to make friends and influence people on Capitol Hill she is finding growing support for her #imwithlizzie anti-bullying campaign in Hollywood.
Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is among the famous to lend support, along with Chris Hemsworth, Zachary Quinto, Kylie Jenner, Katie Couric, Sara Bareilles, Kristen Bell and many others.
And Velasquez is taking her message directly to students who, after all, hold the key to whether anti-bullying efforts can succeed. She and director Sara Bordo recently screened A Brave Heart to hundreds of schoolchildren as part of the Carmel International Film Festival. Watch the video here
To judge from the thunderous applause Velasquez received from the kids, there is reason to be hopeful minds and hearts can be changed.
[Editor's note: for a nominal fee schools can license the film to show to students. Details here]
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.