SXSW Film Review: Served Like a Girl

Thank you for your service, now figure it out alone

On the benefits she’s eligible to receive from the government, one veteran says, “There’s nothing for me, and it's strictly because of my gender.” The fastest growing group of homeless people in America, more than 55,000 female veterans are disproportionately affected, and facing it largely unsupported by the country they risked their lives to defend.

Also suffering compounding issues such as military sexual trauma, PTSD, and chronic illness, female veterans have virtually no access to the social services provided to their male counterparts. Served Like a Girl profiles several women as they navigate re-entry into a society that expects them to shapeshift from soldier to civilian. To combat their own issues, one diverse group finds solace in calling attention to issues faced by other female veterans by participating in the Ms. Veteran America competition, a far stretch from the typical beauty pageant.

The film marks a directorial debut for Lysa Heslov, who has a knack for balancing the heavy subject with humor and endearing anecdotes. She patiently allows the women to share their unique stories, including interview footage of their loved ones filling in the gaps. One contestant’s mother recounts a story about running around topless and an incident with a rude chicken: “He pecked my nipple off, so we had him for dinner.” Another contestant explains that before a Humvee explosion resulted in the amputation of both feet, she wore a size 11 shoe. When asked what size shoe she wanted for her prosthetics, she seized the opportunity to choose a smaller size so she could finally shop for the shoes she’d always dreamed of – something she considers more therapeutic than medication. In response to the legislation that allowed women to officially participate in military combat, one veteran exclaimed, “Allowed in combat!? What do they think I was doing over there? I don’t know how people think I lost my legs. I didn't chew them off!”

The documentary explores the idea that feminine doesn’t mean just one thing, and it’s empowering in many ways, but there’s a missed opportunity to explore LGBTQ issues. Although the cast is diverse, the film’s focus is heteronormative. Still, as the competition narrows to 25 finalists, a theme present from the film’s outset becomes a powerful statement: Women supporting women is imperative for everyone’s success.

Served Like a Girl

Documentary Feature Competition, World Premiere
Tuesday, March 14, 4:45pm, Alamo Lamar A
Thursday, March 16, 1:45pm, Alamo Lamar A

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

SXSW Film Announces Audience Awards
SXSW Film Announces Audience Awards
Grand Jury awards for Virtual Cinema also named

Josh Kupecki, March 18, 2017

SXSW Film Q&A: Divine Divas
SXSW Film Q&A: Divine Divas
Behind the scenes with the iconic drag queens of Brazil

Anastacia Uriegas, March 17, 2017

More by Jessi Cape
Taste of Ethiopia’s Owner Woinee Mariam Shares Her Story
Taste of Ethiopia’s Owner Woinee Mariam Shares Her Story
And her recipe for red lentil stew

Aug. 14, 2020

Roots Chicken Shak to Open at Revamped H-E-B Mueller Food Hall
Roots Chicken Shak to Open at Revamped H-E-B Mueller Food Hall
Chef Tiffany Derry proves that working moms should run the world

Aug. 7, 2020


SXSW 2017, Lysa Heslov, SXSW Film 2017, Ms. Veteran America, Served Like a Girl

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle