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.