“…and a little child shall lead them” – Isaiah 11:6
I’m not sure if a 15-year-old qualifies as a “little child” these days, but that phrase kept going through my mind while watching I Am Greta, Hulu’s revealing documentary of climate activist Greta Thunberg, debuting today.
You might already know the main details: In just over a year, Thunberg goes from a one-person school strike for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament to a scolding address at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. Along the way, she sparks a movement and becomes an icon.
But who knew that a Swedish documentarian, Nathan Grossman, was along for the ride?
And what a ride it is in Hulu’s 97-minute film. I learned, for instance, that Thunberg, prior to her speeches on the world stage, was so rejected by her peers while growing up that she spent three years speaking to no one but her immediate family.
Yes, she had and still has Asberger’s, which would account both for her previous extreme shyness and her later laser-focus on a single subject.
But as her fame grows, and she has to endure such insults as a Fox News person calling her “mentally ill” and another critic telling her to “wake up, grow up and shut up,” Grossman shows us that Greta is really just a young girl, still in pigtails, who’s been thrust into an unwanted worldwide spotlight.
At times, she does act like a normal teenager, and – despite knowing how this story turns out, including Greta’s eventual crowning as Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019 – I kept fearing that she’d revert completely back into her shell.
One such moment is when her dad – also her constant traveling companion/chaperone — insists she eat something, anything, and that it will be okay to join a protest a little late. They also squabble over minute details of speeches, with Dad telling her it doesn’t matter how something is spelled because nobody but her will be reading it. But she’s a perfectionist.
Dad also goes to “Emergency Care Education” in Stockholm, because he’s worried about how Greta will react to all the abuse and death threats coming in.
Then there’s the time, after a speech at one of many international forums, when she whips off her translating headphones because the leaders aren’t doing anything real, in her opinion, to combat climate change.
In the middle of another speech, Greta – who might seem to love her family dogs almost as much as her family members – starts choking up and crying when talking about animals going extinct.
Then, when Greta and Dad (and Grossman, of course), set sail to New York from England in a zero-carbon-emission, small racing yacht — because Greta, practicing what she preaches, refuses to fly — she gets tested to the limit.
During this weeks-long voyage, in which the film suddenly feels like an adventure movie (Grossman spends lots of time showing the trip, perhaps to make viewers feel as seasick as he and the other passengers were), Thunberg tells an audio diary (because, yes, writing on the boat was makeing her sick): “I miss home. I miss having a regular life, with routines, And the dogs….I don’t want to do all this. It’s too much for me. Around the clock. I know that this is important and what is at stake. But it’s such a lot of responsibility.”
No wonder Greta then lashed out at the UN attendees. “How dare you?….If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.”
And I dare you to watch this Hulu film without wondering how much responsibility all of us so-called adults thrust on this vulnerable young girl by neglecting our own responsibilities to planet earth.
As Greta says, ”Sometimes I feel it might be good if everyone had a bit of Asberger’s…at least when it comes to the climate.”
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