Date/time: 12:30 p.m. Sunday
Panelist: Justine Ezarik, YouTube Personality; Lizzie Velasquez, motivational speaker
YouTube has opened the door wide open for a new kind of celebrity to rise, so what’s the responsibility that comes with that power? Popular YouTube personality Justine Ezarik a.k.a. iJustine and motivational speaker Lizzie Velasquez discussed the challenges and successes they’ve encountered on their unconventional path to stardom.
Velasquez, who has diagnosed with a syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight. As a teenager she discovered a short video of herself online titled “The World’s Ugliest Woman.” As a response to the cyberbullying, Velasquez started her own YouTube channel. Today, Velasquez’ inspiring story is the subject the documentary “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story,” which premiered at SXSW. Austin360 reporter/editor Nicole Villalpando profiled Velasquez when her latest book “Choosing Happiness” released.
An emotional SXSW conversation had several audience members moved to tears as they thanked Velasquez for her courage or shared their own stories of bullying. Many parents said they supported the two YouTube stars for offering positive content online for young girls. Some parents admitted never having watched their videos, but were stunned at the powerful impact that they’ve had on their children.
Eager to ask questions, festgoers wanted to know everything from what’s an appropriate age for children to start watching YouTube to what direction YouTube should go in the next 10 years.
“A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story” screens at 2:30 p.m. on Monday at the Alamo Slaughter Lane and at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Topher Theatre.
Velasquez has started a “Take the High Road” campaign where people who spot cyberbullying online can simply respond by saying, “I’m taking the high road” instead of continuing the cycle and attacking the bully in the comments section of YouTube.
Velasquez said the documentary and its filming was an “emotional roller coaster.” “What I love about the film is that you’re seeing my face, but you’re also able to see yourself or others who had to go through bullying. I’m very proud of that.”
Both Velasquez and Ezarik acknowledged that they both felt they were doing something bigger than themselves, that their platforms should be for good and not be about the number of likes or followers.
In the next 10 years, Velasquez said she’d like to see YouTube become more than just cat videos, but also be a stronger resource for support.
When an audience member asked how Velasquez handled getting unwanted attention in public, she offered one of the ways her father handled the situation that was reassuring to her. While at the movies with her family, a group of kids began pointing and staring at her. Velasquez, who is blind in her right eye, doesn’t always notice these things, but even if she did she said her reaction is typically to avoid confrontation and shy away. But her father went up to the boys and instead of scolding them, he introduced Velasquez to them from afar saying, “That’s my daughter Lizzie, and if you want to say hi you can go up to her and talk to her.”
Velasquez says she hopes the documentary inspires people but, “honestly also gets people a little more angry. I don’t want them to stand up for me, but to stand beside me and every other person who has ever been bullied.”