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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Antiracist Guide to watching the Greatest Showman



I didn't want to watch Greatest Showman 'cause I'd read about how PT Barnum actually exploited the folks he had for his sideshow acts. But my kids' friends kept telling them what a great movie it is so we decided to watch it last night. The kids knew some of the historical truth about Barnum prior to watching.


You can learn more about PT Barnum's real life in these articles:  

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-pt-barnum-greatest-humbug-them-all-180967634/
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-greatest-showman-and-the-far-more-fascinating-real-life-of-p-t-barnum

It's all the whitewashing & white saviorism you might expect. There was a part in it that made me so angry I had to leave the room. We keep making heroes out of white men who don't deserve it. And where are the movies celebrating People of Color who have actually made a difference in our society? Blech.


But we turned it into a good conversation. So here's a little Antiracist Conversation guide if you do decide to watch this movie.


1. PT Barnum did some terrible things in real life but is a hero in this movie. In contrast, The Black Panther Party began the School Breakfast program that continues today and even created a school to make sure impoverished kids were fed and educated. But today they are often characterized as violent, dangerous criminals. In real life, PT Barnum bought a slave woman and treated her cruelly as well as exploiting his other side-show workers. Why do you think he gets a movie in which he's shown as a hero to the very people he exploited but there's no movie like this for Malcom X, Huey Newton, or Bobby Seale? What might happen if there was a movie making those folks heroes?


2. Lots of folks seem to have no problem dismissing history because they loved the movie. Why do you think that is? PT Barnum exploited lots of marginalized people, but a lot of his abuse of individuals was based on race. How do you think it would feel to be a Person of Color watching this movie? What does it mean to People of Color when we dismiss history that harmed people who looked like them?


3. Who are the "heroes" in this movie? Since we know that marginalized groups don't need someone from the dominant group to come in and "fix" everything, how would you re-write this movie in a way that respects the leadership of the oppressed group? Who were the leaders within the circus? How would it have been different if Barnum uplifted them instead of being in charge himself? Note who Barnum chose as the next leader when he stepped down. What does that say about who he really respects?


4. The movie talks about some important points: people being respected for who they are, finding dignity for every person, no matter what they look like. However, Barnum doesn't share his power and keeps profiting off of their labor. Do his actions line up with the values the movie is trying to portray? This is a great opportunity to talk about white saviorism and how we white folks want to be the heroes when we really need to share power, uplift & respect local leadership instead.


5. Who makes all the money in the movie? Contrast the house Barnum buys for just his little family with the museum where apparently ALL the sideshow actors were living. Was this fair? Who had the actual talent versus who reaped the profits?


6. What role do women play in this movie? Do you get the sense that they can be more than love-interests?


What other questions would you add?