Portrayal on Screen: Freaks (1932)

Freaks (Dir. Tod Browning, 1932) Banned for many years, when analysed the film is very sympathetic to the disabled people who work at the circus as curiosities, clowns and in the ‘freak show’ and who form a tightly knit and supportive community. At 16, Browning had left his well-to-do family to join a travelling circus: he drew on his personal experiences for Freaks. Cleopatra the trapeze artist is an object of admiration of diminutive Hans, she plays along with his infatuation hurting his short statured fiancée Frieda.
When Cleopatra learns that Hans has a great inheritance she conspires with Hercules , the Strong Man, marrying Hans and then poisoning him. When the disabled circus performers find out they deal with both of them with a violent end killing Hercules and deforming Cleopatra. Prior to this, oblivious to the plot against Hans at the Wedding Feast the disabled performers ( played by disabled people and real circus performers) try to accept Cleopatra as normal by passing a wine goblet round the table saying “ We accept her. One of us. Gooba-gobble, gooba-gobble”. Cleopatra is appalled at this thought and reveals her true feelings. This said the cinematography often shows the disabled people as frightening. And the film was unhelpfully lumped into the horror genre.

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