Greta Thunberg says world leaders that rally behind her message to tackle a global climate crisis would rather hold photo calls at her side than actively reduce environmental destruction.
“Nathan (Grossman), the director, really wanted to portray this celebrity culture that we live in and really show how absurd it is,” Thunberg told a Toronto Film Festival panel on Saturday. Her comments came as Greta, Nathan Grossman’s documentary portrait of the Swedish climate activist, receives a North American premiere in Toronto.
Thunberg said celebrity culture distracts from the global climate change movement by crowding out red flag warnings from the scientific community. “Instead of focusing on the climate and listening to the scientific message, people are instead listening to and talking about me and talking about wanting to take pictures with me,” the 17 year-old Swedish activist said as she held an informal virtual conversation at TIFF with fellow climate activist Autumn Peltier.
The Hulu documentary Greta follows Thunberg from her school strikes in Sweden to being a climate change superstar for a global movement. Grossman’s film captures the Sweden native gaining a media spotlight for skipping school to protest in front of her country’s Parliament, on her way to eventually addressing the UN in a viral speech that criticized world leaders for not doing enough to reverse the environmental crisis.
While using her fame to convince world leaders to act on climate change, Thunberg said posing at their side for the media risked letting them off the hook. “It just feels more convenient because if you pose next to a climate activist, you say you care about the climate and don’t have to do anything,” Thunberg insisted.
She added Grossman’s documentary should have focused less on her and more on the climate crisis itself. At the same time, Thunberg added the film’s focus on her reveals how the environmental destruction issue should not be personalized.
“This cannot be left to individuals. It’s too much responsibility for people like us, like me and Autumn, and he (Grossman) shows so much responsibility is being put on the children,” she argued.
Toronto is also screening James Burns’ The Water Walker, a portrait of 15-year-old Autumn Peltier, a member of the Wiikwemkoong First Nation in northern Ontario, and who advocates for clean drinking water in Indigenous communities worldwide.
Like Thunberg, Peltier has taken her clean water campaign worldwide, including to the United Nations where she told world leaders to “warrior up.” The young activist said the advantage of her social justice and climate change message coming from a teen is the media and world leaders take notice.
“I find it’s a lot stronger when the message is coming from a child, because children shouldn’t be having to speak up on these types of issues,” Peltier said.
Thunberg also discussed the current Coronavirus pandemic, which she argued has shown the world can come together to tackle a crisis. “It’s hopeful because it shows we can really change and we are,” she told the TIFF conversation.