Carryin’ the Banner: Critical Essays on the Newsies Film and Broadway Adaptation

deadline for submissions: 
October 1, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Emily Hamilton-Honey/SUNY Canton
contact email: 

Newsies, both as a film in 1992 and a Broadway show in 2012, has been a sleeper hit for all of its existence. Disney wrote the film off as a failure when it took roughly $15 million to make and only grossed $2.8 million – and yet, the film found a wide, willing, and devoted audience through VHS rentals and Disney Channel showings. The Newsies Broadway show was originally intended to be a licensed adaptation for high schools and colleges - and yet, the built-in audience was so eager for a Broadway adaptation that Disney Theatrical Productions decided to make the gamble. The Broadway production ultimately earned two Tony Awards and two Drama Desk Awards in 2012, and ran for over one thousand performances on Broadway followed by a two-year tour. 

Clearly, the appeal and popularity of Newsies endures, despite Disney’s skepticism and even embarrassment over what writer and podcast host Sarah Marshall called “the flattest, strangest, and least-loved movie a company ever made.” Despite its flaws and box office failure, Newsies has been beloved over the past three decades, enough so to become a Broadway smash despite Disney’s (continued) reluctance. (It should be noted that the folks at Disney Theatrical Productions continue to be far more enthused over the stage musical than its parent company.) This also feels like the ideal moment for a study about a popular culture piece that is anti-capitalism and pro-union. Labor activism is higher than it has been in decades and is being primarily driven by young people and women. Newsies becomes a particularly ironic text given that Disney has come under repeated fire for its terrible labor practices and worker exploitation.

This anthology is intended to be the first wide-ranging critical examination of the Newsies film and stage show and their fandom(s), in order to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the former and the 10th anniversary of the latter. Why, exactly, have these depictions of newsies and this particular historical strike held so much cultural appeal? What is the cultural legacy of Newsies, both within the academy and outside of it? Newsies cuts across many areas and disciplines, including musical theater, popular culture, labor history, childhood studies, and queer studies, among others. All disciplines are welcome! 

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Bryan Denton as a representation of the Fourth Estate, as a father figure, as an unconventional hero.

  • Katherine Plumber as a love interest, as a plot device, as a representation of a working woman/New Woman, the importance (or lack thereof) of the father-daughter conflict between Katherine and Joseph Pulitzer

  • Joseph Pulitzer as villain: how do the film and/or musical use him as a villain figure and/or flatten him as a historical figure? What are the differences in the portrayal of Pulitzer between the film and stage show?

  • Santa Fe mythology in the film and stage show

  • New York as a mythical and/or idealistic space

  • Labor ideology (or failures thereof) in the Newsies film and stage show

  • The depiction of the 1899 newsies’ strike in either adaptation and their alterations of the historical event 

  • The Jacobs family as Jewish figures: Are they coded as Jewish, even though their religious identity is not specifically mentioned in the film or stage show? If so, how and in what ways, and why might that be important?

  • Medda Larkson|Larkin as vaudeville and theater performer, as business owner, as mother/adoptive mother figure

  • The importance to fans of Aaron Lohr’s Mush Meyers as a biracial character, and/or Arvie Lowe’s Boots as a Black character in the early 1990s.

  • The changing characterizations of Spot Conlon and Brooklyn between the film and Broadway

  • Racetrack Higgins’ character, and/or the importance of and differing approaches of Max Casella and Ben Tyler Cook, in either adaptation

  • An examination of why Sprace (Spot and Racetrack) or Blush (Kid Blink and Mush) are such popular fictional couples within the fandom.

  • Newsies as part of Kenny Ortega’s oeuvre as a film director (and perhaps also as a key figure in resurrecting the musical in popular culture)

  • Masculinity in Newsies

  • Historical girlsies and the use of girl actors in touring/regional theater/high school productions

  • Viewers/spectators and both versions of Newsies

  • LGBTQ+ orientations/representation/queerness in Newsies

  • Jack Kelly as cowboy figure (in accordance with/deviation from cowboy mythology in popular culture). There also is room here for an anticolonial moment (e. g., “cowboys and Indians” and the mythology of new identity in an “empty West”).

  • Crutchy|Crutchie Morris as a figure of disabled representation, in either the film or the stage show — especially attending to a stage show that leans so heavily on dance for storytelling. 

  • Newsies as found family

  • Jack Kelly and Crutchy Morris as chosen brothers

  • The impact of a widely available pro shot on the fandom at large

  • A comparison of the cultural context between the 1990s movie and the 2010s Broadway show - why and how were these cultural moments similar and different? What about those particular cultural moments might have driven the box office failure of the film versus the success of the Broadway show?  

  • The rise and fall of newsies self-insert fics and characters versus the background Newsie Original Character (OC) 

  • Why newsies? What makes this group of child laborers uniquely fit for this narrative, as opposed to children in other industries? What do newsies signify as US cultural symbols?

Please send proposals of 250-300 words and a brief biographical statement to Dr. Emily Hamilton-Honey at McFarland & Co. has expressed strong interest in this volume, and early proposals are welcome. Deadline for proposals is October 1, 2022; drafts will be due by March 1, 2023; finished chapters of 5,000-9,000 words will be due by July 1, 2023.