These 2017 box office stats are a sign of times changing — for the better.

The final box office numbers are in from 2017, and there's one clear takeaway from the top earners.

Women killed it.

For the first time in nearly six decades, the three highest-grossest films in North America all featured women in lead roles, according to The Wrap.

Daisy Ridley starred as Rey in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," which has raked in a whopping $530 million domestically to date.



GIF from "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."


Emma Watson led an all-star cast of "Beauty and the Beast," which pulled in over $504 million in U.S. theaters.

GIF from "Beauty and the Beast."

And Gal Gadot transformed into director Patty Jenkin's "Wonder Woman," which earned over $412 million. It's now the top-grossing live-action movie ever directed by a woman.

GIF from "Wonder Woman."

The last time women-led films cleaned up in similar fashion was nearly 60 years ago, when Mitzi Gaynor starred in "South Pacific," Rosalind Russell became "Auntie Mame," and Elizabeth Taylor inspired fans to turn out for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

And it's not all about the money, either — the characters themselves are blazing trails.

Ridley's lightsaber-wielding Rey is a force to be reckoned with in a film where it's the men who let their emotions get the better of them. "Wonder Woman's" feminist message is obvious in just about every plot point throughout the movie. Even Watson's Belle takes on a more assertive, self-possessed nature than in the original Disney classic.

Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images.

But while these fictional female characters are leading the charge, change for actresses in real life has been slow.

USC's Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative 2017 report found that, among the year's top-grossing fiction films, the number of speaking roles for women has remained largely unchanged — and abysmally low — throughout the past decade, Bustle reported.

Hollywood largely remains an old (white, straight, cisgender, abled) boys' club — with a sexual harassment crisis on its hands, no less. Women-led stories are often overlooked by the producers who have the power to bring those narratives to life on screen. The same can be said for stories about people of color, the LGBTQ community, disabled people, and so many others representing overlooked, marginalized groups.

Yet "The Last Jedi," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Wonder Woman" prove that female-led films can be hugely successful.

It's not that audiences won't turn out to see stories about women — it's that filmmakers are more hesitant to create them in the first place.

Why?

Harvey Weinstein and director Steven Spielberg in 2012. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for HFPA.

Change needs to happen from the top down, but just 7% — 7%! — of the top 250 films of 2016 were directed by women. When there are more women in consequential roles behind the camera, the same will be true for the stories told in front of it.

Paul Dergarabedian of ComScore, a media analytics company that collects film earnings, believes 2017 wasn't an anomaly, though — it was a sign of the changing times.

“It is just a renaissance going on in 2017," he explained to The Guardian, of the year's top films. "And now moving into 2018 ... female-led movies and movies with female characters at the center of the story have moved front and center in terms of the box office and in terms of critical acclaim.”

Let's hope so. It shouldn't take Jedi training to get women-led movies made!

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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