Casey Affleck dropping out of the Oscars should motivate us all.

Last year Brie Larson presented Casey Affleck with the Oscar for Best Actor, and it was ... uncomfortable.

Just a year earlier, Larson had won the Oscar for her powerhouse performance in "Room," playing a woman who was held kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and forced to live in captivity with her young son. Hers was a moving performance that reflected a lot of Larson's own advocacy work for victims of sexual harassment and violence. But then she was asked to present one of acting's top honors to Affleck, who had been sued on multiple occasions for sexual harassment years earlier.

The audience erupted in applause as Affleck's name was announced and he took the stage — with one very notable exception: Larson. After offering Affleck a polite hug, she stood off to the side, motionless. In a pre-#MeToo, pre-Time's Up environment, her reluctance to follow the unspoken rules of being a presenter was a statement in itself.


Larson stands still as Affleck takes the stage in 2017. GIF from Oscars/YouTube.

"I think that whatever it was that I did onstage kind of spoke for itself,” she told Vanity Fair when asked about whether she was trying to make a statement by not clapping. "I’ve said all that I need to say about that topic."

Since then, a lot has changed in Hollywood — and Affleck will be absent from the Oscar stage this year as a result.

It's Academy Award tradition that the previous year's Best Actor winner presents this year's Best Actress award (and the past Best Actress presents Best Actor). But Affleck, who was scheduled to present, will not be in attendance when Hollywood gathers for the show on March 4.

Deadline reported that "Affleck did not want to become a distraction from the focus that should be on the performances of the actresses in the category and that is why he made the proactive move," calling it "a no-win situation."

Affleck accepts Best Actor during the 2017 Oscars. Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images.

Thanks to the activism of the past year, actors like Affleck are finally being held accountable for their actions.

It's proof that, when journalists, witnesses, and survivors speak out, they have the power to change the world for the better.

Without Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey's bombshell New York Times exposé detailing megaproducer Harvey Weinstein's history of sexual assault and harassment, and without some of the brave actresses willing to go on record for it, it's hard to imagine that the #MeToo movement would have taken off the way it has.

In a world without the #MeToo movement (which was founded years ago by Tarana Burke, but given fresh life post-Weinstein), it's easy to picture Affleck on stage this year, again receiving cheers from a complicit audience. It's easy to imagine his past sexual harassment suits being brushed off as ancient history, or for audiences to be urged to separate the artist from the art; it's easy to picture a culture that has continued to laud the likes of Roman Polanski or Woody Allen treating Affleck the same way.

Tarana Burke poses with Affleck's "Manchester By the Sea" co-star, actress Michelle Williams at this year's Golden Globes. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

But activists, journalists, and regular, everyday people helped change that. Continued pressure and momentum can help reshape culture in powerful ways. The fact that Casey Affleck will not be on stage is a reminder that we can make the world a better place if we use our voices to advocate for a more just society.

In a world where cynicism and despair often win out, stories like these might just lend a little hope.

#MeToo demonstrators. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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