Arts in the News: Women Ruled the 2017 Box Office, New NY Policy to Make Books Less Accessible for Inmates and more

Time magazine cover honouring "The Silence Breakers" as collective Person of the Year. Clockwise from top: Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu and Isabel Pascual

Women Ruled the 2017 Box Office

For the first time in nearly fifty years, the three most popular films of the year all featured women in lead roles. In 2017, the top grossing films were Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Wonder Woman (starring Emma Watson, Daisy Ridley, and Gal Gadot, respectively). The last time the top three films of the year were fronted by women was back in 1958. BBC News’ Razia Iqbal points to the #MeToo campaign and the Weinstein scandal as not necessarily causing, but certainly coinciding with the success of women-led films. Though the success of the three films is significant, Igbal explains, other battles for gender equality in Hollywood have yet to be won: women have yet to get equal pay for equal work (it was recently revealed that Michelle Williams was paid less than $1,000 for work for which co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million). Additionally, only one woman (Kathryn Bigelow) has won an Oscar for Best Director (only four have ever been nominated). The groundbreaking popularity of women-led films in 2017 is certainly something to celebrate; hopefully 2018 will bring more gender-equality trends in Hollywood worth celebrating!

Results of the 2017 Bachtrack Classical Music Statistical Analysis

The Bachtrack classical music database tracks performance statistics, such as the composers and pieces with the most performances every year: in 2017, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart takes first place for composers, with Handel’s Messiah taking first as the most-performed work. For the last couple years, Mozart and Beethoven have been dominating the top two spots; J.S. Bach, however, seems to be narrowing the gap, potentially overtaking one of the two other music giants this year. Brahms, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky come in the next three places, respectively. The Bachtrack statisticians also measured how “patriotic” each country was in 2017, based on the correlation between the amount of a country’s music played outside that country and the amount of the same music played inside the country. For example, 6% of music by British composers is played worldwide, versus 13% played in Britain. The analysts point to a trend in the gender breakdown of concert conductors: in 2013, there was only one woman in the busiest one hundred concert conductors worldwide: there are now five. The trend has many thinking that in the next 5-10 years, the percentage of women conductors will keep increasing. An interesting review of the 2017 classical music world– we will have to wait and see what 2018 holds!

Cassette Tapes Making a (Small) Comeback?

Nielsen Media Research has released its annual “Music Year-End Report” for 2017 and found a surprising trend: sales of cassette tapes have increased, hitting their highest since 2012. Experts are pointing to nostalgic pop-culture hits to explain the trend: movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and television shows like Stranger Things are reviving interest in music and technology of decades past (particularly the 1980s). Tellingly, the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks led cassette sales in 2017, with the Stranger Things, Volume 1 soundtrack as the third-best seller. Other popular cassette albums for 2017 reportedly include Eminem’s 2002 album The Eminem Show, Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, and Kanye West’s 2013 album Yeezus. Of course, despite whatever gains cassette sales made, these tapes remain a niche format. It certainly is fascinating how popular programs can inspire such nostalgia for a (largely forgotten) musical format!

New NY Policy to Make Books Less Accessible for Inmates
Later in 2018, New York state correctional institutions plan to make a change to their policy regarding inmate access to books and other deliveries: starting in the fall, there will be no package delivery for inmates except for items from a list of pre-approved venders. Only six vendors have been approved so far. The package ban will apply not only to clothes, fresh food, and household items, but also to books–a fact that has many critics worried about censorship concerns. Critics of the decision made by the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) have pointed out that the first five vendors approved offered fewer than a hundred books for sale–nearly a quarter of which are coloring books. Since inmates will also lose access to shipments from family members, they won’t be able to get books that way either. DOCCS spokesperson reportedly recommended that friends and family members donate to prison libraries by way of nonprofits, rather than send books to individual prisoners; many of those very nonprofits, though, have openly condemned the new policy. Prisoners are not just attempting to access books for recreational reading–many inmates need textbooks for courses they are taking and, without access to the Internet, it can also be difficult to find sources for papers they are required to write. The sixth accounced approved vendor, Music by Mail, does offer some tens of thousands of book titles (for comparison, though, the New York Public Library system offers tens of millions). Other prison systems have reversed similar policies in the wake of public outcry–only time will tell what tell what will become of this one.

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