A Documentary Portrait of Environmentalist Greta Thunberg

Since she’s rapidly become a global icon in recent years, it was inevitable that teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg would get her own biographical documentary. And in the hands of director Nathan Grossman, I Am Greta is a mostly conventional portrait. It follows Thunberg in a quasi-vérité style, from her initial school strike in 2018 through to her famous boat trip across the Atlantic to deliver a speech at the United Nations calling for more assertive action on climate change.

The information the film delivers about global warming is nothing new, which somewhat dilutes any sense of urgency around the issue. Yet in observing Thunberg, Grossman captures some sobering truths about the nature of contemporary activism, and how futile it can seem. Again and again, Thunberg will deliver a righteous speech, only to be met with polite applause and condescension from the adults around her (requests for selfies become an increasingly dark motif). But the fact that the movie sees this and yet still tries to be inspirational makes me wonder whether those moments of truth are purely accidental, and if this is ultimately just another example of patting Thunberg on the head and telling her how cool she is without really absorbing her message.

I Am Greta is available to stream on Hulu starting November 13.

A Documentary Portrait of Environmentalist Greta Thunberg is from Hyperallergic, a forum for serious, playful, and radical thinking about art in the world today.

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