Illustration of Greta Thunberg by Marcus Escobar for an article on I Am Greta
Trying to save the world isn't all sunshine and rainbows. (Illustration by Marcus Escobar, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

‘I Am Greta’ Reveals the Beauty and Horror Behind Climate Activism

The Hulu documentary follows the teenage global climate activist as she becomes one of the most known leaders today.

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Illustration of Greta Thunberg by Marcus Escobar for an article on I Am Greta
Trying to save the world isn't all sunshine and rainbows. (Illustration by Marcus Escobar, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

The Hulu documentary follows the teenage global climate activist as she becomes one of the most known leaders today.

The 17-year-old climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, lives the life of a movie star. She has 4.4 million followers on Twitter, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was named Time’s 2019 Youngest Person of the Year and continues to protest every Friday under the FridaysForFuture slogan. However, her life really is a movie now, and her journey to world fame as a leader can be watched on Hulu in the newly released documentary, “I Am Greta.”

“I Am Greta” captures the raw essence of Thunberg’s grit, doing without fancy B-roll or sit-down interviews; it simply films the present moment as it plays out. The camera angle usually centers straight forward, realistically showcasing what it is to be seen.

The documentary takes place from 2018 to 2019, providing a behind-the-scenes look at how Thunberg went from a girl sitting outside the Swedish parliament with a sign to a global phenomenon equivalent to a real-life YA dystopian heroine like Katniss Everdeen, taking down the world’s Capitol — anti-environmental politicians.

The film was created by Nathan Grossman, and according to Thunberg, half of its funds will be dedicated to her foundation, which will all go toward sustainable organizations and projects that are already defending nature and supporting the people who are facing the worst of the climate crisis. Thunberg herself — and anyone connected to her — will not receive any payment.

It is evident from the film that she is focused on the movement rather than her influence. From the beginning of the documentary, Thunberg is clear about her role in advocating for climate change; she is only the voice for a greater purpose.

“I like to have routines and I notice details, and once I get really interested in something, I can get laser-focused on it and keep doing it for hours without getting bored,” Thunberg says in the film. She sees her Asperger’s as an advantage, and the film reflects the passion that allows her to dedicate every ounce of energy and time into activism — which at times can be fatiguing for a teenager.

“I Am Greta” briefly addresses Thunberg’s diagnoses, which includes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and selective mutism in addition to Asperger’s syndrome. In 2011— when she was only eight years old — Thunberg learned about climate change and didn’t understand why no one was doing anything about it. It was then that she became depressed, stopped eating and talking except when it was necessary and lost 22 pounds in two months.

“Once the climate crisis catches your attention, you can’t look away. Once you understand the magnitude of the problem, then you can’t erase it,” says Thunberg. She cared about the issue so much that it took over her entire life to the point of physical disruption.

For three or four years, Thunberg struggled with the depression before she began her school strike, which pushed her to a place where she could finally channel all her energy.

“Why should I give up when there are so many things you can do to make a difference?” questioned Thunberg when she decided to strike.

Although Thunberg herself denies “suffering from Asperger’s,” and simply says she “has it,” the documentary could have benefitted from exploring the issue.

According to the CDC, being “diagnosed with either anxiety or depression” among children aged 6–17 years increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8% in 2007, and to 8.4% in 2011–2012. The numbers continue to rise.

Over the course of the documentary, it is revealed how powerful a young woman like Thunberg can be to the masses of teens, many of whom face anxiety and depression. The strength behind her platform was not only physical action, but the movement of millions of children across the globe who united to protest with her. It’s the anger and defiance of Generation Z that takes inspiration from stories like Thunberg’s and turns it into the power of physical presence.

After global climate strikes in 2019 began to increase, Thunberg began to understand that there was hope for the environment — but only through the demands of youth.

“The people will rise to the challenge,” she told a committee of politicians in one of her speeches.

As the movement and Thunberg’s voice began to gain traction, the world began to notice.

“If the young people can sustain this, then they could actually change the world,” says one news anchor in “I Am Greta,” as viral videos from social media play across the screen, showing millions of young people marching across the globe.

“I Am Greta” does a magnificent job of showcasing a powerful collective, but it also openly exposes the frustrating obstacles Thunberg repeatedly runs into.

There is one instance in the film when Thunberg speaks at an environmental convention in Brussels, Germany, and once she sits down, the president begins to speak about their “solutions.” Thunberg has her headphones on, listening to the translations, when she suddenly shoves them off — it’s obvious his words are empty of any compassion.

“I honestly don’t understand why I get invited,” says Thunberg in reference to similar scenarios. Speaking with broken emotion, she explains how many times she’s met with politicians and celebrities to talk about solutions for the climate crisis, and time and time again, they’ve never followed through.

“Sometimes when they just sit and talk, I wonder to myself, what would happen if I just stood up and screamed?” expresses Thunberg.

Despite fear of burn-out and even death threats, Thunberg has not yielded. In 2019, she sailed across the Atlantic just so she could speak at the U.S. Climate Summit, which has caused her to gain even more attention.

“I Am Greta” exposes Thunberg’s breaking point as she sails across the sea, which can take several weeks; when the current is so rough, she is nearly sick with both emotion and physical nausea. In the moment, with her eyes burning from tears, she expresses that the responsibility of fighting for the world is too heavy, even for her.

“Humans are social animals, and in a herd, everyone has different roles. We are dependent on each other to survive,” she says, once the climax of the documentary passes and they reach New York City. “If you see a threat, it’s your responsibility to sound the alarm, and I feel like this is my responsibility, in a way.”

Regardless of the challenges, Thunberg has created an unstoppable force of justice — a community across the globe united by resilience. “I Am Greta” will only progress the movement and push the agenda for the U.S., especially since the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was marked by Trump’s own lack of action.

More than ever, climate change activism is on the come-up, and Thunberg’s warning will have anyone shaking in their boots.

“The world is waking up — and change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Writer Profile

Haven Worley

University of Rochester
English and Film/Media Studies

Haven Worley is a storyteller, activist and author. If she’s not scheming her next plot, she’s with a cup tea watching her favorite latest film. Daydreaming is her favorite pastime.

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