10 Disturbing True Stories Behind Famous Movies

9. P.T. Barnum Built An Empire On Slavery & Abuse - The Greatest Showman

30 Minutes Or Less

The Greatest Showman was a massive box office smash back in 2017, adapting the life of famed showman and entertainer P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) into a flashy musical.

Yet the frothy stylings of the movie largely ignored the less-sunny truth, that Barnum created an empire off the back of slavery and abuse.

His began his career at age 25 parading around a blind and mostly paralysed Black slave woman, and because slavery was illegal, he exploited a loophole allowing him to "rent" her instead.

After spending years purporting that the woman was 161 years old, when she died he even turned her demise into a spectacle, charging admission to watch her autopsy where - shocker - she was revealed to be roughly half this age.

As Barnum's parade of "curiosities" grew, he increasingly exploited the racism of the time to display Black people as exotic "others," yet the Barnum depicted in the film is a thoroughly sanitised one, portrayed by Jackman as more of a loveable wheeler-dealer type.

And that's the Barnum most people today are going to know - the one who was charming as hell, looked great in a suit, and sang songs.


Stay at home dad who spends as much time teaching his kids the merits of Martin Scorsese as possible (against the missus' wishes). General video game, TV and film nut. Occasional sports fan. Full time loon.