More than 34,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Golden Globes not to honour The Greatest Showman.
The film tells the story of PT Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, who founded the travelling show that would eventually become the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
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The Greatest Showman also stars Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya.
The film is nominated for three Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture, Best Original Song and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture under the Musical and Comedy category.
A Care2 online petition says the film "romanticises a heartless man, ignoring how he exploited both animals and humans".
The petition demands the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who votes on the nominees, not award any Golden Globes to The Greatest Showman on the basis that to do so would be celebrating Barnum's alleged cruelty.
It claims Barnum "essentially founded animal exploitation in circuses", and accuses him of mistreating elephants that were captured and brought to the US from Sri Lanka.
"The elephants were confined in a cramped compartment, without fresh air or room to take a single step," reads the petition.
"One elephant died on the ship. Once captive, Barnum's circus employed bullhooks and hot pokers as handling methods in order to intimidate elephants into submission."
The petition also accuses Barnum of racism and exploitation, claiming he "repeatedly exploited African-Americans and people with disabilities for profit, forcing them to degrade themselves in the process".
Barnum is also alleged to have engaged in illegal human trafficking.
"Despite slavery having already been abolished in New York, Barnum bought an African-American woman and treated her as his slave, forcing her to perform without receiving any of the profit," reads the petition.
At the time of writing, 34,026 people had signed the petition.
The 75th Golden Globes Awards Ceremony is to take place on the evening of January 7, 2018 (local time).