The Greatest Showman receives several mixed reviews

Maddie Moore, reporter

Based on the story of American showman P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman depicts itself as a fun and inspirational musical that is entertaining to all ages. The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Zendaya attempts to deliver a message of acceptance and tolerance, but falls flat if one already knows the true story of P.T. Barnum. Despite being rated at 90 percent by audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, critics gave it a 56 percent because of its loose interpretation on the real Greatest Show on Earth.

Jackman’s portrayal of Barnum proved to be controversial, as in the film Barnum was portrayed as a caring and accepting man who genuinely wanted the world to celebrate “freaks” and outcasts. Unfortunately, the real P.T. Barnum was not the man screenwriters, Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, depicted him to be. The Greatest Show on Earth was supposedly a platform for acceptance and tolerance, however, many viewed Barnum’s circus as an exploitation of people with abnormalities and Barnum, himself, as a racist, despite his anti-slavery convictions.

“Screenwriters Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon whitewash history at every turn, making Barnum a warm, paternal figure beloved by his sideshow performers, wife, and children,” Ben Sachs, top critic for Chicago Reader, said.

The most controversial act Barnum recruited for his circus was a lady named Joice Heth, an African American nurse who he claimed was 161 years old and was supposedly George Washington’s nurse. He purchased her in 1835, and exhibited her until she died a year later. It was later discovered that Joice Heth was not 161 years old, but approximately 80 when she passed. Heth was kept in cruel conditions and was not payed for her contribution to Barnum’s show. Even after Heth’s death, Barnum continued to exploit her by selling tickets to her autopsy- ultimately launching both himself and his show in the spotlight despite the obvious fabrication of the entire show.

The Greatest Showman decided to skip over Joice Heth’s story, granted, it is a PG rated movie. Critics, however, argued that it was not wise to tell the story of P.T. Barnum and skip over his faults.

“This crude revision of Barnum as a white able-bodied savior-a kind of Oskar Schindler of the sideshow-is particularly in bad taste considering the far more unsavory historical realities,” Ed Halter, 4Columns critic, said.

Referred to as a “highly fictionalized musical biopic” by Vanity Fair, The Greatest Showman left critics unsatisfied. 90 percent of audiences, however, disagreed.

“I can admittedly understand every complaint I’ve since read about it; sharing many of them in regards to the boxing in of Barnum’s story to that of a standard Hollywood storyline. And yet, there is this undeniable aspect of the film and all the joy and hope it provides in these moments that says something about the movie, the craft behind it, and the reaction they garner,” Philip Price, a “Super Reviewer” for Rotten Tomatoes, stated.

At the Golden Globes, on January 7, The Greatest Showman was nominated for Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy), Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy), and Best Original Song in a Motion Picture. Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul walked away with Best Original Song in a Motion Picture for This is Me. This song is Pasek and Paul’s second big win, as last year they won an Academy Award for La La Land’s City of Stars. Performed by Keala Settle, This is Me is considered an anthem and ‘symbol of independence’ for young girls all over the world. On January 23, This is Me was nominated for an Oscar, in which Pasek and Paul are anticipating a win.

“But seriously-by the end of nearly every number and, as a result, the film-what has just occurred on screen leaves you feeling so gleeful and allows the characters to be so endearing that it’s impossible to deny the appeal of The Greatest Showman despite its many, many flaws,” Price said.

Disregarding the real story of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman was a wonderful holiday film that delivered a compelling soundtrack and heartwarming story about a man striving to provide for his family and spread a message pushing acceptance and equality. Hugh Jackman’s performance as P.T. Barnum was riveting despite historical inaccuracies, and ultimately made The Greatest Showman worth seeing.