Why I cry every time I hear "This is Me".

The movie “The Greatest Showman” strikes a real chord in our house. We can relate. Of course any good film needs characters and situations that an audience can relate to so let me be more precise. We don't relate to the main character P.T. Barnum even though my wife and I both worked in show business. We relate, on behalf of our son with a rare disease, to the circus performers. Those people were called in the language of the time “freaks” and the term has held until far too recently. The moment in the film that feels especially true to our experience is when Lettie Lutz, the bearded lady played by Keala Settle, dances/marches toward the camera to sing/declare “This is Me”. It might seem my son Lucas has little in common with Lettie aside from perhaps some chubby cheeks and unnatural hair growth. He can't sing or dance. He can't even speak. But when he wants something and is unhappy about it he has a roar that feels to us a close cousin to Lettie's. Since watching the film we now routinely translate Lucas's roar as “This is me!”.

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The film is probably emotional for any viewer. We can all find reasons to relate to the underdog and the outcast. But when you are more closely connected to the tradition of the circus freak, the emotion hits home differently.

The human oddities of the circus side show were very often people with rare diseases. The film's Dog Boy (Luciano Acuna Jr.) would likely have had the genetic disease Hypertrichosis.
Any side show giant probably had adenoma to trigger excess growth hormone. Conjoined twins, dwarfism, albinism are all part of Barnum's circus. The famed Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick is thought to have had either Neurofibromatosis (NF1) or Proteus Syndrome. Many circus contortionists actually could credit Ehlers Danlo Syndrome with their extreme flexibility wether they knew it or not.

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While “The Greatest Showman” romanticizes a history that could otherwise be viewed as the exploitation of people with physical abnormalities, there are many accounts from former circus “freaks” that credit the circus trade with giving them a better life. That may be the faint praise of low expectations. Absent a job as an entertainer some of these people had few options. They might live a fairly awful life in a hospital or institution or they might be left to die outside of one. So I'm reluctant to give too much credit to the real-life Barnum and other ringmasters of the era for lifting them up from that fate.


But the movie's Barnum brings his dream to life and creates a family for these Rarities, these outcasts. Emboldened they march into society and demand that it accommodate them as they are. I imagine someone pushing my son in his wheelchair as part of that dance. And when their song declares they are not broken, they are glorious, I weep every time because that the former is what my son seems to be and the latter is what we know he really is.

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That's the power of show business and film. That's why we put on our film festival, to bring more light to these glorious stories.


When demoing the concept for the film to the movie studio this moment reportedly sealed the deal.

“This is Me”
Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

I'm not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
'Cause we don't want your broken parts
I've learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one will love you as you are

But I won't let them break me down to dust
I know that there's a place for us
For we are glorious

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am proof
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away 'cause today, I won't let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades
And reach above the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that's what we'll become

Won't let them break me down to dust
I know that there's a place for us
For we are glorious

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am proof
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

And I know that I deserve your love
There's nothing I'm not worthy of
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
This is brave, this is proof
This is who I'm meant to be, this is me

Look out 'cause here I come (look out 'cause here I come)
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum (marching on, marching, marching on)
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me