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The Greatest Showman, a movie about PT Barnum, is humbug.

The Greatest Showman is a wonderful movie musical starring Hugh Jackman that tells of how PT Barnum started his circus of fun and humbug. I didn’t know too much about PT Barnum going into the movie except for what I have learned about him from reading Bunk by Kevin Young. He purchased an African American woman named Joice Heth and paraded her around as the one hundred and sixty-one-year-old nurse of George Washington. After seeing the movie and enjoying it for what it is, I realized that Joice Heth was not in the movie at all or even mentioned. So it turns out that even though the movie depicts Barnum as a lovable family man of tolerance and acceptance, in reality, he was really a man of exploitation and cruelty.

According to one article by Jackie Mansky called “P.T. Barnum Isn’t the Hero the “Greatest Showman” Wants You to Think”, he paraded Heth around a lot creating different stories about her, even making up a story that she wasn’t even a person, but rather a “constructed automaton”, or a machine. He also made her work almost twelve hours day to day. He bought an old woman so he can exploit her and make a buck off of her, and even after she died he performed an autopsy on her in front of a large crowd of paying customers. Even in death, Joice did not have any peace from Barnum. Another person the movie leaves out is William Henry Johnson, who had a tiny sloping head and was put in a cage and dressed as a monkey. The only two African Americans in the movie that are in the circus are two trapeze artists, and they’re both fictional. Basically, what I am trying to say is that Barnum was a man of humbug and trickery, and a movie musical made about him is also humbug because it doesn’t display the harsh and racist things he did to certain people in order to make a buck. It glosses over the negative aspects in order to create a movie about acceptance and tolerance even though Barnum was more of a man of exploitation.

-Andrew Dzwonczyk

6 comments

  1. I think this is so interesting. I actually just watched this movie two days ago and absolutely loved it and loved the whole story that was portrayed. I figured that it wasn’t entirely accurate and would only have showed the more positive side of his story in order to create a great film; however, I would have never guessed his true character.

  2. This is so interesting! It was a great movie, and I also think that it is interesting that people believed this would be the make or break of Zac Efrons career. That was said a lot before it came out, however I never read anything following that up.

  3. I have yet to see this movie but I have heard the music and it is very good! I see where you are coming from but you have to remember it is a movie. They can’t display all the ugly parts in a movie or else it wouldn’t become a sucess. Who would watch something that displays all the bad things he did? Some may but most people go to the movies to escape. While there is are sad movies most times they are accpanied with happy endings.

  4. I have to say I enjoyed the movie myself, though mostly for the music, but I do agree that if they had to change the truth this much to make the movie work, they could have picked a different person to make the movie about. I’m sure great music could have come out of it either way.

  5. Whenever I see people applauding this movie, I always think back to the first few chapters of Bunk where Young talked about his scamming. It’s really important that you point out his exploitation of his performers! While not nearly as bad as it must have been in actuality, there were still moments of condescension that stood out in his character.

  6. Comment #11

    I have heard a lot of great things from this Movie, do you think the Musical or Movie is better? Which one do you guys recommend I watch First to have a better understanding of it.

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