COVID-19’s impact on the film industry has been well-publicized and well-debated. Across the country, most movie theaters closed during the various stages of lockdowns, and plenty of films’ productions and releases were delayed. Thankfully, many movies finished production, like Christopher McQuarrie’s “Mission: Impossible 7” (2021) and Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling,” which is expected to be released in 2021. While some studios are holding off releases of their films for movie theaters, like Marvel’s “Black Widow” (2021), others made difficult decisions to release their content on streaming services. Warner Bros. in particular faced controversy when it announced that all of its 2021 films would be released in theaters and on its associated streaming service HBO Max simultaneously. This includes blockbusters like “Dune” (2021), “Space Jam: A New Legacy” (2021) and “The Suicide Squad” (2021). This decision certainly reflects our use of steaming services over this past year. But only time — and our COVID-19 vaccine distribution — will tell when audiences will return to movie theaters.
With movie theaters becoming an issue during the pandemic, TV became a comfort for many of us watching at home. Since the pandemic, it seems that every channel has launched its own streaming service — where there used to be Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, there’s now HBO Max, NBC’s Peacock, Paramount+, Discovery+, AppleTV+ and Disney+ launching either just before or during the pandemic. With so much content available through streaming, it begs the question of how cable will fare in the coming years. As for content, we obviously can’t forget the incredible second lives of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2005–08) and “The Legend of Korra” (2012–14) had after being added to Netflix. As for new shows, it seems productions companies are still able to release quite a bit of new content for all of us cooped up at home —”The Queen’s Gambit” (2020), Season 4 of “The Crown” (2016–), “The Flight Attendant” (2020–), “Ted Lasso” (2020–), “The Undoing” (2020) and Season 4 of “Big Mouth” (2017–) all dropped on streaming platforms during the pandemic, showing that despite all the difficulties of in-person production, TV and especially streaming are still going strong.
The biggest change the music industry saw following the onset of COVID-19 was the end of live music. Several large artists were forced to cancel or postpone tours, including Doja Cat, Dua Lipa, Lady Gaga and BTS. A halt in live music gave rise to livestreaming as the primary medium through which fans could see their favorite artists perform. While livestreams lack the immersive quality of actually standing in a venue, the format allows for greater artistic control than an in-person show does. In October, Billie Eilish used 3D graphics to create haunting visuals of spiders towering over her, as well as placing herself in an ocean scene, surrounded by sharks. Grammy-nominated artist Phoebe Bridgers similarly used green-screen graphics in an August livestream, presenting herself and her band in front of the cosmos. While live shows are certainly no stranger to grand visual displays, the sheer amount of control that artists and their collaborators exerted over the images they presented to viewers is unparalleled.
While larger artists have stayed afloat during the pandemic, beloved venues have felt the impact of the end of live shows. In Boston, multiple local venues have been forced to close doors due to economic losses following the cancellation and postponement of live music. Among such venues is Great Scott, which has hosted shows in the greater Boston area for more than 40 years. ONCE Somerville was also forced to close doors in November. Luckily for the former, crowdfunding may allow the venue to reopen.
The pandemic shook the fashion industry like never before. As people began dressing more casually for home and shopping in stores less, some questioned if fashion as we know it would collapse into a “sweatpants 24/7” lifestyle. The industry itself was one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, with huge revenue losses, fractured global supply chains and production temporarily brought to a standstill. Factory workers already facing poor conditions faced huge layoffs, or alternatively were overworked and exposed to outbreaks. Despite all the doom and gloom, many designers responded resiliently, and some fashion weeks adapted to virtual formats surprisingly well. Some even believe the challenges posed by COVID-19 provide an opportunity to transform fashion to embrace greater body positivity, diversity, environmentalism and ethical working conditions. While it’s unclear whether the pandemic will leave fashion worse or better off than before, there’s no denying it’s been an eventful year that will change the business forever.
COVID-19 has had a mixed effect on the book industry, contributing to the increase of sales in books, but also impairing the business of many independent bookstores. According to Publishers Weekly magazine, in the wake of the pandemic, “combined print book and e-book sales hit 942 million units in 2020 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan, a 9% increase over 2019.” This increase can be attributed to the convenience of online shopping in the pandemic.
Independent bookstores faced a different outcome with the pandemic, struggling in the face of restrictions and specifically during the holidays. Porter Square Books in Cambridge relies on the holiday season to bring in one third of its yearly book sales. Confronted with the reality of inevitably lower sales due to COVID-19 restrictions, stores adapted. The shift to internet platforms, whether for virtual events or selling books online, was a significant adjustment.
On top of this, Harvard Bookstore sent a letter to customers that outlined recent struggles and urged early shopping, capitalizing on community support to make it through. Brookline Booksmith successfully expanded its store, partnering with Curds & Co. to excite deterred customers with a new restaurant and bookstore combination. Another company, Bookshop, which supports local bookstores, prospered amid the pandemic. Bookshop aims to combat Amazon’s monopoly on the online book market by sending some of its profit to independent bookstores.
Reflecting on a year of COVID-19 restrictions, the book industry adapted with innovative solutions. Still, support is necessary for independent bookstores to combat booming online monopolies and quell the constant uncertainty of this age.
Despite some egregious incidents, it has been amazing to watch comic books soldier on through the pandemic. With new digital series announced with big-name talent to new events bringing in new readers, comics are seeing a sort of rebirth as they adapt to the new challenges. Even the local Davis Square comic book store, Comicazi, is open for business, all while respecting capacity limits and adhering to the mask mandate. It’s a world of comfort for me, and I’m sure other comic enthusiasts, to be able to safely wander the aisles and appreciate the new releases. Titles like DC Comics’ “Future State” (2021–), its ever-expanding “Black Label” line and Jonathan Hickman’s X-men titles were all released unhindered and right there for purchase. The comic book scene, at least around the Medford/Somerville area, is alive and well.
When physical production became a huge risk, entertainment industries like film and TV took an unplanned hiatus. Fortunately, video games, which provide countless hours of play, are thriving, even though development pipelines have lengthened due to work-from-home setups. Hits since the March 2020 lockdown include Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” (2020), Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us Part II” (2020), Sucker Punch’s “Ghost of Tsushima” (2020), Supergiant’s “Hades” (2020) and, as we can all probably remember, Innersloth’s wildly popular “AmongUs,” which was initially released in 2018 but dropped a Switch version in 2020. Despite the long-awaited flop of the CD Projekt Red game “Cyberpunk 2077” (2020), the output for video games has continued to keep players engaged with brand new stories, escapist worlds and spaces for socializing with friends (as anyone who’s visited a friend’s island in “Animal Crossing” can corroborate).