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A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Brave Heart is an inspiring, if sometimes intense, documentary about Lizzie Velasquez, who's fought tirelessly against bullying (both online and offline) ever since discovering a video of herself on YouTube titled "The World's Ugliest Woman." Born with a very rare congenital disease, Velasquez faces many health problems but still travels the country and the world speaking out against cruelty and in favor of anti-bullying legislation. She's an outstanding role model, and the film has many powerful messages for tweens and teens. That said, some parts can be upsetting, such as when the movie talks about bullying victims who've killed themselves (one mother is interviewed and gets very teary), when Lizzie reads hurtful comments about herself (and her friends and family members react with anger and sadness to her situation), and when Lizzie's precarious health is discussed. This is an important movie for parents and kids to watch together; hopefully it will encourage everyone who sees it to embrace who they are and stand up for themselves and others.
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What's the story?
A BRAVE HEART: THE LIZZIE VELASQUEZ STORY introduces viewers to a friendly Texas girl with a big smile, big hair, and an enormous heart. Born with an extremely rare congenital condition that makes it impossible for her to gain weight (among other ongoing health issues), Lizzie has never looked like anyone else -- but thanks to loving parents and what sounds like an extremely supportive community, she managed to have a somewhat normal childhood and girlhood, despite some giggles, stares, and teasing. But then she found the video someone posted on YouTube with the title "The World's Ugliest Woman" -- and it was her. The hundreds of cruel comments ("Kill it with fire!" "Shoot yourself!") could have ensured that she never left the house again, but instead Lizzie found the strength and courage to stand up and fight back, first with her own YouTube channel and then via many media and speaking appearances across the country and around the world. Her tireless rallying cry of "embrace who you are" has earned her legions of fans, and she's now using her influence in support of anti-bullying legislation like the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
Is it any good?
This inspiring documentary is a must-see for anyone who's ever felt like they just didn't fit in, and Lizzie is an amazing role model. She seems to have a never-ending fountain of determination and positivity to draw from -- which could make some people seem unapproachable or unrelatable, but not Lizzie: You get the feeling that she'd be just as happy to sit down and talk about random (positive!) YouTube videos with you as she'd be delivering an inspirational talk to 10,000 people in Mexico City. And the film does capture a few moments in which Lizzie's energy flags or she doubts herself, which humanizes her even further.
A Brave Heart may not break any ground in terms of filmmaking tricks/style, but it would be hard for even the most jaded of moviegoers to deny its appeal or the power of its message. Lizzie makes friends and runs into fans wherever she goes; her down-to-earth approachability and constant refrain of loving yourself, being yourself, and following your dreams have young people around the world hanging on her every word. We can only hope that they truly internalize what she's saying, extending her empathy, encouragement, and optimism even further.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about an individual's responsibility to stand up to bullies, not stand by. Is that easy to do? How does Lizzie Velasquez do it in A Brave Heart? How do you think people can really make a difference against bullies? For some helpful resources on bullying, check out the research and info on our cyberbullying page, our educators' cyberbullying toolkit, and our Connecting Families materials.
Bullying comes in many forms -- which ones have you and your friends had to deal with? How did you handle it? Why is it important to try to empathize with bullies (as Lizzie mentions) and to forgive those who wrong you (as her father urges)?
How did Lizzie respond when she came across the cruel comments on YouTube? Do you think it's possible for just anyone to take the same course she did?
How do you know when things are getting out of hand? When does "kids being kids" turn into cyberbullying? And when should parents intervene?
What makes Lizzie a role model? How have her friends and family members contributed to her becoming the person she is? Do you think she could have accomplished what she has without their support, both as a child and as a grown-up? How does she demonstrate courage, perseverance, and compassion? Why are these important character strengths?
- In theaters: September 25, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: January 5, 2016
- Cast: Lizzie Velasquez
- Director: Sara Hirsh Bordo
- Studio: Cinedigm
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 78 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements involving bullying, and for brief strong language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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