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How Historically Accurate Is The Greatest Showman?

With almost any biopic, comes some kind of exaggeration or bending of the truth. Whether you're watching the best or worst biopics on an individual's life or a film based on a specific event, you can never expect 100 percent, or even 50 percent historical accuracy. Heck, even Oscar-nominated documentaries can be inaccurate.

In 2017, The Greatest Showman was released and made waves at the box office, having since grossed over $400 million worldwide. The film centers on the story of P.T. Barnum, the real life businessman, showman, and politician who would eventually found the successful traveling Barnum & Bailey Circus. In the musical drama, Hugh Jackman portrays Barnum as a lovable businessman hoping to help the marginalized by putting them in his show.

But as Sam Adams of Slate wrote of the film: "Like Barnum himself, it's an elegant fraud, nice enough to look at as long as you don't look too close."

P.T. Barnum was not so noble of a man

While The Greatest Showman includes a stellar cast, incredible dance numbers, and a soundtrack that earned the film a Golden Globe, if you're looking for historical accuracy from the movie it'd be best to look elsewhere.

In addition to many inaccuracies, which include opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) ever being romantically interested in Barnum as well Zac Efron and Zendaya's characters ever existing, the standout historical falsehood in the film is that Barnum was a good man.

Although the movie portrays Barnum as someone who helps those society has cast out, in reality, he exploited those same people.

According to The Guardian, Barnum "tore apart families, denying them the ability to practice their culture, all the while exploiting the western world's voyeuristic curiosity about the colonies." He also kidnapped "conjoined twins Millie-Christine and black brothers known as Eko and Iko" so they could be part of his show.

High on the list of the egregious actions Barnum took was purchasing an elderly black woman as a young man. According to The Smithsonian Magazine, Barnum took his "first real dip into showmanship at age 25 when he purchased the right to 'rent' an aged black woman by the name of Joice Heth, whom an acquaintance was trumpeting around Philadelphia as the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington."

There's a plethora of other awful cruelties Barnum enacted to earn a profit, but the film never addresses them. While Jackman's Barnum says, "The noblest art is that of making others happy," the real Barnum is also tied to the quote: "There's a sucker born every minute."