‘Greatest Showman’ – Controversy and Redemption


Staff Writer

In May 2017, animal rights activists from PETA and the Humane Society of the United States celebrated the shutdown of the “Greatest Show on Earth” — the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After 146 years of entertaining audiences worldwide, the show collapsed due to declining attendance, rising competition from other shows, and constant complaints against its treatments of animals.

Although this news excited some, it saddened those who had gone to see the circus as children. The extraordinary creation of P.T. Barnum and the Ringling Brothers had ended forever.

Or did it?

Seven months later, the circus was back – but this time in theaters, forever immortalized in the new musical movie “The Greatest Showman.” Although the lm, whose production process started in 2009, had nothing to do with the end of the circus, its timing was perfect.

“The Greatest Showman” shares the rags to riches story of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) through song and dance. The film glorifies the creation of his circus by championing it as a celebration of humanity’s differences.


The plot begins with the forbidden love story of P.T. and Charity Barnum, who are separated by their class differences. As adults, they live in New York City, and an unemployed Barnum attempts to make money by opening an American Museum of Curiosities.

His dull museum gradually transforms into a live show with performers who possess rare talents and odd deformities. The audience soon meets the Bearded Lady (Keala Settle) and trapeze artist Annie Wheeler (Zendaya). Barnum takes on business partner Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), who falls in love with Wheeler, but cannot express it because he is challenged with the disapproval surrounding dating a black circus performer.

Barnum is determined for his show to gain approval from critic James Gordon Bennett, so he temporarily leaves his family and the circus to go on a nationwide tour with Swedish Opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). This proves to be a mistake, since their love a air puts a strain on Barnum’s marriage, and his absence leaves the circus to fend for itself against rowdy crowds who burn it down.

The movie does its job perfectly as a musical, taking you through drama that comes with relationships and the hardships that outcasts often face. There’s a happy ending, the outcasts receive the spotlight and you leave the theater feeling good.


However, “The Greatest Showman” received criticism for its historical inaccuracies. For instance, those hoping that Efron’s character would introduce himself as “Bailey” were surely disappointed to learn he played a fictional character named Phillip Carlyle.

And where was the Civil War?

In real life, Barnum’s circus burned down in the midst of the 1860s, but the lm does not express this time frame exactly.

In “The Art & Making of The Greatest Showman,” Signe Bergstrom claimed that the lm is set during the Industrial Revolution, but the locations and costumes for the lm were inconsistent for New York at this time. However, the lm’s designers were more concerned with creating a colorful musical that appeals to the imagination and the magic of childhood than historical accuracy.

The lm’s strongest asset is its soundtrack. If you had been to recent Ringling shows such as “Legends” and “Out of this World,” you’d notice the songs t perfectly within the style of contemporary circus music.

Hit song “This is Me” was written by “La La Land”’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul on a plane and almost didn’t make the lm, but has since won a Golden Globe Award and is nominated for various others. Hugh Jackman even sang it on his “Broadway to Oz” tour in 2015 before it was released.

What is confusing is that Keala Settle’s song is the clear favorite, but her name isn’t on the soundtrack cover. Ferguson, the actress who plays Opera singer Lind, has her name on the cover, despite the fact that her only song in the movie, “Never Enough,” is actually sung by Loren Allred.

For a film that preaches pulling people out of the shadows, it certainly hides Settle’s name behind that of a more popular actress.

“People came to my show for the pleasure of being hoodwinked,” Barnum says in the movie. “Just once I’d love to give them something real.”

Although “The Greatest Showman” has many historical falsehoods and some inaccuracies, the majority of its characters, the trapeze stunts (there were no stunt doubles) and the satis ed imaginations of its viewers are all real.