In advance of the second half of Stranger Things season four premiering tomorrow, The Hollywood Reporter has learned that Netflix and 21 Laps are staying in the supernatural business.
As part of the production company’s overall deal with the streamer, the two have optioned The Moon Represents My Heart, the forthcoming debut novel from Pim Wangtechawat, in a competitive situation and will develop the project as a limited series. Grandview sold the option rights on behalf of Mushens Entertainment’s Liza DeBlock.
Executive producing alongside 21 Laps’ Shawn Levy and Josh Barry is Gemma Chan, who also is attached to star in the story about a British-Chinese family with the secret ability to time travel. After the parents vanish, their son and daughter search for them across time while coming of age as adults.
21 Laps senior vp Emily Morris, who brought the book to Netflix, will oversee the project for the producers alongside manager Moera Ainai.
The Moon Represents My Heart (incidentally, also the title of a Mandarin pop classic made famous by Teresa Teng in 1977) will be published next spring by OneWorld Publications in the U.K., with Italian rights sold to Keller Editore.
In addition to her upcoming onscreen work (which includes Olivia Wilde’s thriller Don’t Worry Darling, Apple’s climate change anthology series Extrapolations and New Regency’s sci-fi feature True Love), Chan’s slate as an executive producer includes an upcoming Anna May Wong biopic produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi and Working Title and penned by Tony-winning playwright David Henry Hwang.
The Eternals star is represented by M88, the U.K.’s Independent and WME.
I feel so honoured to be invited by SEA JUNCTION (South East Asia Junction) to speak about Thai childhood at the book launch for Giuseppe Bolotta’s BELITTLED CITIZENS: THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF CHILDHOOD ON BANGKOK’S MARGINS on 28th December, 2021.
I had the pleasure of reviewing this book for the Mekong Review, and got to interview so many amazing kids as a result. The review is one of my favourite pieces I’ve ever written. It was a great experience providing commentary at the book launch and being part of a discussion about a topic that is so close to my heart.
Mentoring sessions are led by the mentee’s preferences. During our first session, we will discuss how the mentee would like to utilisethis mentorship program, and all the following sessions will be planned accordingly. Workload will also be adjusted to fit the mentee’s schedule.
The sessions might look like this:
SESSION 1 (60 minutes) Free Writing & Let’s Get to Know Each Other!
Get to know the mentee
Discuss the mentee’s writing and previous experience
Free Writing activity
Discuss how the mentee would like to utilise this mentorship program
“What kind of author are you?” (Passionate Topics VS Comfort Narratives)
Homework – bring a piece of writing for discussion
SESSION 2 (60 minutes) Purpose & Themes
Masterclass the mentee’s work
What is the importance of “Purpose” in writing?
What is your purpose as a writer?
What themes are you interested in? How do these tie into your purpose as a writer?
Homework – bring ten story ideas
SESSION 3 (60 minutes) Ten Story Ideas
Discuss the mentee’s ten story ideas
Start developing the strongest two ideas
What are the themes and purposes of these two stories?
SESSION 4 (60 minutes) Characters
Discuss different types of characters
How to start building characters(Wants VS Needs)
Start creating characters for the mentee’s two story ideas
Homework – write a character piece for one of the story ideas
SESSION 5 (60 minutes) Narrative Viewpoint
Masterclass mentee’s homework
Discuss different narrative viewpoints – first person, third person etc.
Which narrative viewpoint would the mentee like to use for their current project?
Homework – write a short story using a particular narrative viewpoint
SESSION 6 (60 minutes) World-building
Masterclass a short story
Why is world-building important?
Magic system (Hard Magic VS Soft Magic)
Let the mentee try their hand at world-building
SESSION 7 (60 minutes) Structure
Discuss different act structures, such as the Three-Act Structure, Five-Act Structure etc.
Different storytelling tropes, such as the Hero’s Journey, the Virgin’s Promise, Rags to Riches etc.
SESSION 8 (60 minutes) Poetry / Novel / Short Stories
Discuss and analyse various poems and poets
Let the mentee try their hand at poetry
Discuss mentee’s current writing project (ie. short story, poetry collection, novel etc.)
SESSION 9 (60 minutes) Novel / Short Stories
Discuss mentee’s current writing project (ie. short story, poetry collection, novel etc.)
SESSION 10 (60 minutes) Q&A / Publication Process / Link up with other mentees
10 one-on-one mentoring sessions (1 hour each) either in person or through Zoom in Thai and/or English FREE of charge! — there is no need to feel pressured or intimidated. Sessions are conducted in a friendly and collaborative manner, with the aim of empowering and educating young Thais to pursue their writing passion/goals
Sessions are personalised according to each mentee’s preferences – for more details on what these sessions might look like, click here.
The chance to create new writing (poems, plays, screenplays, short stories, personal essays, novels etc.)
Support and advice on current or new writing projects
Lessons on specific writing techniques, such as World-Building, Character-Building, Thematic Architecture, Structure and Narrative Viewpoint etc.
Skills on how to critique and improve your own work
Information on how to embark on a writing career
The opportunity to build connections with other writers
Fun writing activities that encourage you to explore your creativity and who you are as a writer
This mentorship program is for:
Young Thai nationals who are 14-18 years old (high school age) only, who are currently residing in Thailand
Those who are interested in or are passionate about writing — writing experience (including publication) is not required
Writers at beginner’s level (in both Thai and/or English)
Those who are interested in pursuing writing as a career
Those who are working on a writing project (poetry collection, play, screenplay, novel etc.) and require mentorship or assistance
Those who have the dedication and the time to attend mentoring sessions and do extra writing to a certain degree
How to Apply (before 31 December 2021):
Only 2-3 mentees are selected for this first round (those who aren’t selected shouldn’t be discouraged — keep writing and apply again!)
Put “Free Mentorship for Young Thai Writers” in the subject email
In the body of the email, introduce yourself — your full name, last name, nickname, age, school and year of study (fun facts are also welcome!)
In the body of the email, answer the following questions:
Why are you applying to this mentorship program? What do you hope to get out of it?
How much experience do you have? (It’s okay if you don’t have a lot or any — it’s just necessary to gauge how much writing you’ve done!)
Include a writing sample (attached to the email as a Word Document) that is no more than 3000 words and no less than 200 — the writing can be anything! Including articles, poems, short stories, personal essays, fan-fiction, plays, screenplay, an excerpt from a novel etc.
Mentees will be selected and notified one week after the application deadline
Mentor’s Qualifications — Pim Wangtechawat
Author of the novel The Moon Represents My Heart, which will be published in the UK in 2023 by OneWorld Publications and in Italy by Keller Editore
Freelance writer whose work has appeared in many literary journals, magazines and websites, including Nikkei Asian Review, Mekong Review, YesPoetry, The Sekie UK, Den of Geek etc.
Graduated with a Distinction from the Creative Writing MA program at Edinburgh Napier University
Graduated with Upper Second Class Honours in English Literature from King’s College London
Graduated with an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma from New International School of Thailand as an English A1 High Level and Thai A1 Higher Level student
Speaker at Ruamrudee International School and Chulalongkorn University
A judge for the “Rise Your Voice Contest” by Union International
Poet who has performed her poetry at various events
For more information — IG: @pim.wangtechawat / Twitter: @PimsupaW / Line: @pimkaprao
If you’re a young creative (6th-12th grade/year 7-13) based in South-East Asia, you’re welcome to submit your work in a variety of mediums — writing, photography, art, videography, performance and others. The prompt is all about exploring third-culture identities, a subject that’s close to my heart.
The deadline is July 12th, 2021. You can find more info here by clicking here. I can’t wait to go through everyone’s work, and join these inspiring students as a panellist at their virtual IDENTITY summit in August.
BIG NEWS! I’m beyond thrilled to share that I’ve signed with literary agent Liza DeBlock!
I’m so excited to join the growing force that is Mushens Entertainment as we work to bring my debut novel The Moon Represents My Heart into the world!
The Moon Represents My Heart is a literary novel that follows generations of a British-Chinese family of time travellers as they confront their history in the face of love and loss. It is The Joy Luck Club meets The Time Traveller’s Wife, and is inspired by my own family history.
Many authors of my background don’t often get this opportunity, so I want to take the time to celebrate every victory! Thank you to my family and those closest to me for supporting me throughout this entire process. Thank you to my beta-readers: Sienna Vance, Annie Dupee, Cameron Edwards, Andrea Fang, Ashley Wolf, Mark Redlich, Sebastian Brooker, El-Jay Worthington, Johanne Gorman and Karen Postupac. And to my lecturers Laura Lam and David Bishop for their guidance.
Some books you love as a child you forget with time. But some grow with you. The more life you experience, the more certain characters and stories begin to evolve into something deeper and more profound till, before you know it, they’re speaking to you as intimately as if you were one and the same.
The first time I read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, I must have been in my early teens; I don’t quite remember. Believe it or not, in Thailand, a story about four sisters growing up in Concord, Massachusetts is not a staple of many people’s childhood. As a young girl, I was a veracious reader. I would read all the time — at meals, before bed, in class, while walking through the shopping mall with my family. At one point my parents had to sit me down and tell me that I was reading far too much and that I had to learn to function in the real world every once in a while.
Despite my obsession, however, I was more engrossed in fantasy epics like The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, as well as The Little House on the Prairie books and the Anne of Green Gables series. Instead it was the 1995 Little Women film adaptation with Winona Ryder that introduced me to and sparked my interest in the March sisters. But beyond the story’s well-known highlights — Jo selling her hair, Jo rejecting Laurie’s proposal, Beth’s death, Laurie marrying Amy, Jo getting together with Professor Bhaer — I completely missed the significance of the much smaller moments which have since become extremely meaningful to me once I’ve revisited the novel as an adult.
Like with many other teenage girls before me, what initially drew me to Little Women, other than the tight-knit relationship between the sisters, was the character of Jo March. Jo is everything I dreamed of being: smart, brave, confident, ambitious, unconventional. A writer. She’s also the object of affection of the lovely and attractive boy next door, Laurie, which, for an unpopular girl like me, felt deeply romantic. To my teenage self, Jo seemed almost superhuman — a feminine ideal that I strive to emulate at all cost. However, after reexamining the text in detail, it is more than apparent that Alcott never intended for Jo to be an unattainable fantasy for young girls:
“But, you see, Jo wasn’t a heroine, she was only a struggling human girl like hundreds of others, and she just acted out her nature, being sad, cross, listless, or energetic, as the mood suggested”.
Alcott also created Jo to be resilient, but not an island all on her own: after Beth’s death, Mrs. March makes note of how she’s “very lonely” and that “sometimes there is a hungry look in your eyes that goes to my heart”. When Jo tries to explain her feelings to her mother, the result feels all too familiar to any young woman who’s struggling to reconcile their desire for independence with their need for intimacy:
“It’s very curious, but the more I try to satisfy myself with all sorts of natural affections, the more I seem to want. I’d no idea hearts could take in so many. Mine is so elastic, it never seems full now”.
Famously Alcott did not want Jo to end up married at the end of her novel; only after readers clamoured for a romantic resolution did she paired Jo up with the older Professor Bhaer. Alcott herself never married. (The line spoken by Jo in the new film adaptation directed by Greta Gerwig has been taken straight from one of Alcott’s own letters: “I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for, I’m so sick of it!”) It is fascinating and fun to imagine what a single Jo March would have been like in an alternate universe. Would she be like Alcott herself, working and writing and taking care of her family? Would she get to travel to Europe like she’s always wanted to? What kinds of affairs and friendships would she have later in life? In the novel Jo herself maps out her future with not much sentiment:
“An old maid, that’s what I’m to be. A literary spinster, with a pen for a spouse, a family of stories for children, and twenty years hence a morsel of fame, perhaps, when, like poor Johnson, I’m old and can’t enjoy it, solitary, and can’t share it, independent, and don’t need it”.
Knowing more details about Louisa May Alcott’s own life has also deepened my understanding of Jo’s relationship with Laurie. (Much of Alcott’s work was inspired by her own life: Alcott also had three sisters, one of whom passed away at a young age like Beth.) Laurie was partly inspired by a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewsk (nicknamed Laddie), with whom Alcott had a brief relationship with. After spending time in Paris with Wisniewsk alone for two weeks, Alcott crossed out sections in her diary detailing their time together and wrote only two blunt, devastating words in the margin: “Couldn’t be”. Despite my naive teenage pining over what could have been for Jo and her Teddy, how this affair ended made it very clear to me that Alcott must have never seriously entertained the thought of making Jo and Laurie a couple. And that it makes all the sense in the world that it should be Jo’s younger sister, Amy, who would eventually be his wife.
Amy March, so frequently short-changed in film adaptations, is actually one of Alcott’s most relatable and complex characters. She, along with Jo, has become the sister I’ve felt a kinship to the most since I came back to this story. Although she’s wrongly regarded by some as the consolation prize to Jo’s dazzling magnetism, the Amy in the novel grows from a spoiled and pretentious little girl into a very kind, intelligent and independent young woman. “I’m not afraid of storms,” she declares resolutely to her mother in a letter, “for I’m learning how to sail my ship”. Despite being in love with Laurie, Amy is never afraid to call him out on his shortcomings, and their romance has the maturity and compatibility that are never present in quite the same way in Laurie’s relationship with Jo:
“It is so beautiful to be loved as Laurie loves me. He isn’t sentimental, doesn’t say much about it, but I see and feel it in all he says and does, and it makes me so happy and so humble that I don’t seem to be the same girl I was. I never knew how good and generous and tender he was till now, for he lets me read his heart, and I find it full of noble impulses and hopes and purposes, and am so proud to know it’s mine.”
On the surface Little Women is a story about women and about people being decent to each other. About the simple things in life. A seemingly normal and heartwarming American fairytale. But falling in love with this story all over again has taught me that there is so much more to it than that. From the loss of Jo and Laurie’s childhood relationship (“Teddy, we never can be boy and girl again — the happy old times can’t come back, and we mustn’t expect it”), to Beth’s death, and to Amy and Laurie’s daughter’s frail health, Alcott never flinches away from the truth of what it’s really like to be alive. She never shies away from the pain and the suffering that we all must endure, nor does she turn away from the messiness within all of us.
As a young reader, Jo and her sisters and Laurie used to appear perfect and infinite, as though they would exist forever in a bubble of little happy-endings, neatly coddled in a warm place somewhere. Having grown up, I know now that that has never been the case:
“…beauty, youth, good fortune, even love itself, cannot keep care and pain, loss and sorrow, from the most blessed for …
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and sad and dreary.”
Like Alcott herself, Little Women is deeply realistic at heart. But it is also warm, loving and, above all, hopeful. It is not easy, Alcott seems to say through her characters — whether it be Jo, Amy or Laurie — to be our best selves or to care for others with such sincerity and let your hearts “take in so many”, especially in the face of tragedy. “It’s highly virtuous to say we’ll be good, but we can’t do it all at once,” Alcott writes, “and it takes a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together before some of us even get our feet set in the right way.” But what matters is that we try.
“How fortunate we were who still had hope I did not then realise; I could not know how soon the time would come when we should have no more hope, and yet be unable to die”
Vera Brittain, “Testament of Youth”
On the surface Peaky Blinders is simply an entertaining gangster show with a hint of the American Western: we follow the charismatic Tommy Shelby (the brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his family from the rough streets of Birmingham to the Houses of Parliament as they attempt to expand both their legal and illegal empire. From the gory murders and bombastic shootouts to the trademark slow-motion walks, the show, now in the middle of its fifth season, has all the tropes we usually associate with the gangster genre. But to think it is merely about beautiful people looking cool while smoking and drinking whiskey is to do it a great disservice.
Cillian Murphy has talked often about how there are two very distinct Tommy Shelbys: one before the war and one after the war. The iconic haircut, the ice cool veneer, the swaggering walk, the smoking — these are all the quintessential ‘Tommy Shelby Things’ that fans have gleefully lashed onto. But Murphy has never given the impression that stepping into the gangster’s shoes is particularly easy or fun. Despite the role being an “actor’s dream”, almost everything about Tommy, according to Murphy, seems to feel heavy or ill-fitting, from the haircut that has never grown on him to how “exhausting” it can be to inhabit the man’s physicality and mindset.
In season five, Tommy is worse than he’s even been, self-medicating, hallucinating and suffering from suicidal urges. He is also lashing out and making riskier moves than usual, paranoid that someone is after his crown. But his recent acquaintance with fascist leader, Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin), can prove to be very significant. Will he choose to play along with Mosley for his own benefits? Or will it trigger his pre-war self — someone with strong ideals of equality and justice, who used to smile and laugh a lot, and was very romantic — to reemerge?
Just as Tommy’s enemy, Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody in a deliciously villainous turn in Season 4) says, “Everything here [in England] is about the war”. Everything in Peaky Blinders, too, leads back to it, and to how the characters carry the damage from it and how much that can cost them. What happens when someone, like Tommy, has lost all faith but still have so much left to lose? What happens when, to borrow Brittain’s words, you “have no more hope, yet be unable to die?”
Of course, despite the damage done to them, Tommy, his brothers and his gang members are certainly not men we should worship or idolise. (Unfortunately, some fans’ misunderstanding of the show has resulted in unfair hatred directed toward the female characters, particularly Lizzie and Linda, who usually stand in opposition to the Shelby brothers.) But they are not men we should completely scorn or crucify either. Knight, with his intention to make the show about “men and their flaws and faults and heroism”, have made these characters fully-fledged and well-rounded enough that we care about their well-beings.
Tommy can only describe what France has done to him in vague but evocative terms: the dust and mud of it; “the shovels against the wall”; the silence; that one soldier’s minute, “of everything at once”. Even the haunting refrain of “In the bleak midwinter”. Polly chalks it up partly to their “gypsy blood”, causing them to “live somewhere between life and death, waiting to move on”. Yet the word ‘trauma’ is never mentioned once. And somehow it feels inadequate and insufficient, paling in comparison to the total enormity of the experience.
“You want me to write this down?” asks Tommy defiantly when his wife, Lizzie, confronts him. “Do you want me to write you a fucking letter? Me and Arthur can’t write it down cause they haven’t invented the fucking words. We don’t have the fucking words”. The show, however, seems to be trying to find them for him.
This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Avengers: Endgame
Since the release of Avengers: Endgame, one of the most contentious plot points among die hard fans seems to be the fate of Captain America: After helping rid the universe of Thanos and travelling back in time to return the Infinity Stones, Steve Rogers decides to stay behind in the 1940s and build a life with his original love interest, Peggy Carter. While many viewers are happy and emotionally moved by Steve’s decision, some have taken offence with how little time the film affords to Steve’s relationship with his best friend Bucky Barnes, even going as far as calling his decision to travel back in time for Peggy an “undermining” of “Captain America’s entire characterisation”.
In today’s intense fan culture, however, it is always important to keep in mind that just because something doesn’t happen in canon the way we wanted or expected it to might not necessarily mean that it’s bad writing. Not always. Is Steve Rogers’ ending truly a disservice to his character? Is his decision to return to the past a selfish one?
The answers, like many of the situations Steve Rogers often finds himself in, might not be quite as clear cut as many seem to think.
Steve is not returning to the main timeline
By going back in time to live with Peggy, some viewers initially think that this means Steve is in fact Peggy’s husband whom we have never seen and that he is simply living his life on the down low, allowing HYDRA to continue infiltrating SHIELD and using Bucky as their brainwashed master assassin. This, however, is not how time-travel works in the MCU. Both Banner and The Ancient One explain this in the film. The Russos themselves have explained this.
By deciding to go back and live in the past, Steve creates another timeline that branches off from the main one. The Peggy we see at the end is Peggy from this new timeline — not the Peggy with the husband and not the Peggy who went through the events of Agent Carter — and the Bucky in this timeline is not our Bucky. When Steve shows up to see Sam at the end of Endgame, he’s hopping back from his other timeline, which means we don’t know anything about what he’s been doing there. Yes, he’s had a life with Peggy. But they could also be rooting Hydra out of SHIELD, saving Bucky, having their own adventures etc.
Bucky knows and is okay with Steve’s decision. Watch the film again. Keep your eyes trained on Bucky when he and Steve say goodbye to each other. This is not an unexpected abandonment or betrayal. When Steve doesn’t return, Bucky’s not surprised, and when he spots the figure by the lake, he knows immediately who it is. They know each other so well, they don’t even need to explain step-by-step what is happening to the other; they’re that in-sync. It is also possible that our Bucky already has knowledge of the other Bucky and of Steve’s life in the other timeline. (The Russos have hinted at this possibility.)
Thor and Tony are two of the original Avengers; they are the leads of their own films. Bucky, at the end of day, is only a side character in the Captain America franchise. No matter how popular he is, expecting a side character to get the same level of treatment as the lead characters is unrealistic, especially considering how Bucky, along with Loki, is already one of the most prominent side characters in the franchise: his struggle to cope with his trauma is very much the catalyst for both The Winter Solider and Civil War, with the former film even named after him.
Steve more than deserves another chance at happiness in his own time period. He more than deserves his new ‘What-if?’ timeline where he can finally have a genuine life with the girl he loves and (quite possibly) his childhood best friend without the responsibility and sacrifice of being ‘Captain America’. On the other hand, the main timeline Bucky now appears stable and healthy enough to build relationships with other Avengers — like Sam, Shuri and even T’Challa — without Steve’s help. His upcoming show with Sam also hints that he is finally ready to start a new life free from the horrors of his past. To expect him and Steve to always be together — to expect Steve to always be responsible for him — is again asking Steve to go above and beyond what is necessary.
After years and years of being a soldier, of carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, Steve can start over and become a ‘person’ again by returning to a branched timeline. He can enjoy life, savour the time he’s gotten, plant things and see them grow. There’s a reason that the song that’s playing at the end of the film is “It’s A Long, Long Time”: this story about a solider who’s out of time is finally ending with the soldier returning home to his time after “a long, long war”.
“I had a date”
Saying that Peggy has been only “an undercurrent” or a barely significant part of Steve’s storyline is such a fundamental misunderstanding of his character and arc. Yes, Steve has a very intimate, ferocious bond with Bucky, and that bond drives much of the plot of the Cap films. But he also has a similarly strong bond with Peggy: The compass with her portrait appears in nearly every film; Him going to see Peggy for advice in TheWinter Soldier; Him dreaming of her in Ultron; Him making a date with her as his plane goes down; “I had a date” as the closing line for The First Avenger.
Yes, the screenwriters might have once referred to Peggy as “a woman Steve once kissed”, but when you consider the whole context of the interview, the quote is not necessarily about their romance being insignificant, but rather that their romance never evolved beyond kissing and, therefore, adds to the argument that him dating Sharon Carter is not incestuous. Furthermore, in the same interview, they also say, “[Peggy] continues to hold weight, which is great.”
Implying that Bucky’s bond with Steve is stronger than his bond with Peggy or vice versa is insulting to all three of them. Yes, their bonds may serve different functions in the films — the bond with Bucky more to drive the plot, while the bond with Peggy more to anchor the character — but if you really examine Steve’s entire arc in detail, you’d see that his relationships with Bucky and Peggy run in tandem with each other rather than in competition.
Part of why Steve goes against Tony in Civil War and fights tooth and nail for Bucky despite legitimate reasons not to (superhero accountability is a topic for another day) is partly because he’s already lost Peggy. It is because both Peggy and Bucky are what tie him to his past, to his old life, and to the life he could have had. As he explains it to Tony in Civil War, the Avengers are Tony’s family “more so than [his]”; that he’s never really fit in anywhere, even in the army. His faith “is in people. Individuals.” These people, who are essentially his family, are Bucky, Peggy, his Howling Commandos and — after the events of The Winter Soldier and Civil War — Sam and Natasha.
Steve is not a man out of time purely because he’s now living in the twenty-first century: he’s a man out of time because he’s literally lost time — time he could have spent with the people he loves. He’s not a man out of time just because of the loss of Bucky. He’s a man out of time because of the loss of Peggy as well.
“Selfish” Steve Rogers
Now that the branched timeline is confirmed, we can dismiss the theory that by going back to the past, Steve is somehow robbing Peggy of her other life, letting HYDRA fester within SHIELD and leaving Bucky to rot in a Russian dungeon. Again, we might be getting more information on Steve’s alternate timeline in the Falcon and Winter Soldier show.
This is why the Captain America trilogy, along with Lord of the Rings, is my favourite trilogy of all time. The Cap trilogy is so incredibly human because fundamentally it is about loss, grief and the lives and the people we bring or not bring with us as we journey along. This is why, despite a few tiny bumps along the way and maybe one missing beat with Bucky, the completion of Steve’s arc – going back in time and “getting a life” in a branched reality with the two people he love most – works for me. Considering what Steve has gone through and the weight of all the ghosts he’s carried, this ending is not just beautiful and poignant, but also kind.
And for Steve Rogers, one of the kindest human beings in the MCU, ‘kind’ is fitting as hell.
Kendrick has always been open about his dualistic personality. In his critically acclaimed album To Pimp A Butterfly (which is now archived in the Harvard University’s Library) he raps, “Your horoscope is a gemini, two sides. So you better cop everything two times”. Listening to his albums is like watching the rapper shadow boxing in front of a mirror. Yes, Kendrick grapples with many things in his music – with being a black man in America, with gang violence in his neighbourhood, with love and relationships, with temptations, with faith and religion, with leadership – but while he throws those punches and jabs, you can’t help feeling that those blows are not meant solely for others. Rather they are meant for him – for Kendrick Lamar, the imperfect man who is grappling with himself. He says it best in DAMN.’s last track “DUCKWORTH.”: “It was always me vs the world until I found it’s me vs me / Why, why, why, why?”
True to Kendrick’s duality, many of the tracks in DAMN., his highly-anticipated fourth studio album, are named in contrast to each other: “HUMBLE.” and “PRIDE.”, “LOVE.” and “LUST.”, “BLOOD.” and “DNA.” etc. But the pairing of the album’s most personal song “DUCKWORTH.” with a track called “GOD.” seems particularly telling. Don’t forget: DAMN. was dropped on Good Friday, and Kendrick’s music has always been rich with biblical imagery. He is an artist who has always been vocal about his faith in God and has mentioned his baptism as a turning point in his life. His first album with a major record label, Good Kid, M.A.A.d City (GKMC), is, in many ways, a retelling of how he’s saved by the Lord: the album starts with a prayer and ends with an old woman leading him to Christ after he has witnessed the murder of a friend. In his old songs “Faith” and “His Pain” (with BJ The Chicago Kid), he tries to reconcile believing in the divine with his own failings and the harsh nature of his surroundings. He spends the entirety of To Pimp A Butterfly (TPAB) escaping the enticement of Lucy, a female incarnation of the devil Lucifer. In an interview he did after the release of DAMN., he explains why God is such a mainstay in so many of his songs: “I’ve always felt God used me as a vessel. Period. Whether to show my flaws, my intellect, my pain, my hurt. To share my stories. To share His message. I can say the nastiest thing on record, but I still feel like that’s a vessel. You need to hear that. Cause I can’t sugarcoat the reality of what’s going on out here. I can’t sugarcoat the reality of my imperfections.” These “imperfections” are exactly what makes DAMN.’s relationship with God such a difficult thing to pin down.
Firstly, it is important to understand that by the time this album came along, Kendrick was already being seen as one of the most important voices of his generation; a leader for his community; a rare hip-hop artist who’s received both critical and commercial acclaim. Students unpack and study his lyrics in classrooms all over the world just as they study William Shakespeare and James Joyce. (GKMC has in fact inspired a composition class where the album is studied alongside Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.) TPAB, his album before DAMN., is a vibrant, exuberant and intense narrative that sees Kendrick tackling institutional racism, fame, leadership and survivor’s guilt. Kendrick’s art has never been ‘light’, but a thread of hope can still be detected throughout the album. Many of Kendrick’s darkest moments in TPAB – the songs “u” and “The Blacker the Berry” – are followed by songs with uplifting messages like “Alright” and “i”. “Alright” became an anthem for the Black Lives Matter Movement, while the chorus of “i”, a song heavy with elements of jazz and funk, finds Kendrick screeching the affirmation “I love myself!” with unbridled joy. God is portrayed in this album as a constant source of truth and comfort. In “Alright”, Kendrick proudly proclaims, “I’m fucked up / Homie, you fucked up / But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright”. The positive song “i” starts with the line: “I done been through a whole lot / Trial, tribulation, but I know God”. So when the DAMN. album dropped and we are exposed to its much, much darker religious themes, many can’t help but wonder, “Woah, K-dot, what happened?!”
A perfect world is never perfect, only filled with lies Promises are broken and more resentment come alive Race barriers make inferior of you and I See, in a perfect world, I’ll choose faith over riches I’ll choose work over bitches, I’ll make schools out of prison I’ll take all the religions and put ’em all in one service Just to tell ’em we ain’t shit, but He’s been perfect, world – Kendrick Lamar, “PRIDE.”
In The Ringer, Micah Peters writes that “Kendrick’s faith functions astride the spiritual and the secular, leaving ample room for doubt”. We listen to his words and wonder: what is faith to Kendrick? How does God exist in an evil world? What kind of God is Kendrick’s God? How does Kendrick’s faith function in Trump’s America? There is such a bleakness to DAMN. – and the existence of the God in DAMN. – that makes these questions all the more pressing. Writing for NPR, the critic Rodney Carmichael even compares the album to the Bible’s Lamentations: “DAMN. is Lamar’s Lamentations, bleak in tone and temperament, long on suffering and short on hope.” This album is not a typical church service, which Kendrick himself has described as “praise, dance, worship. Pastor spewing the idea of someone’s season is approaching. The idea of hope. So on and so forth”. (The buoyant form of Christianity that Chance The Rapper portrays in his music comes to mind.) Kendrick goes on to say that, as a child, he felt these church sermons, although “beautiful”, “had an emptiness about it. Kinda one sided”. What he chooses to explore on DAMN., what he is feeling on DAMN., is infinitely more personal.
The two refrains you here throughout DAMN. are “what happens on earth stays on earth” and “ain’t nobody praying for me”. “Ain’t no nobody praying for me”, specifically, is delivered multiple times in multiple ways – sometimes angrily, defiantly or despairingly. Kendrick is suffocating; he literally says so in the song “FEEL.”: “Look, I feel like I can’t breathe / Look, I feel like I can’t sleep / Look, I feel heartless, often off this / Feelin’ of fallin’, of fallin’ apart with / Darkest hours”. He talks of “the feelin’ of false freedom”, of being paranoid in “LOYALTY.” (“Feel somethin’ wrong / You actin’ shifty, you don’t ride / With me no more”), to the point of distrust in “PRIDE.” (“I don’t love people enough to put my faith in men”). Themes of ‘Thirst’ and ‘Hunger’ are prevalent throughout the album. The song “FEAR.” begins with a sample from The 24-Carat Black, who sings from the depths of “poverty’s paradise” that “I don’t think I could find a way to make it on this earth / I’ve been hungry all my life”. The song’s main refrain – “Why God, why God, do I gotta suffer?” – echoes Jesus’ from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In “LUST.”, a track about the repetitive nature of human’s based desires, Kendrick croons, “I need some water / Somethin’ came over me”. It is fair to say that the ‘water’ he is longing for here is not just water to quench his sexual desires, but also the water of life. (In the song “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” from GKMC, water represents his and his friends’ need for a spiritual cleansing, and Jesus himself asks for water while he is nailed to the cross.) This desperate yearning of Kendrick’s is a great contrast to the close proximity he seems to have with the figure of God (and the devil Lucy) in TPAB. No longer is he the clear-eyed and determined Kendrick in “i” and “Alright”. Here, on DAMN., he is on his knees in the wilderness, seeking a respite from his sufferings.
I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em But who the fuck prayin’ for me? – Kendrick Lamar, “FEEL.”
Kendrick has mentioned how DAMN. is an “urgent” album. This is not a surprise, considering America’s political situation and how socially conscious Kendrick has always been. There is a deep sense of doom in DAMN. which is absent from his previous albums. He raps in “FEEL.”: “I feel like it ain’t no tomorrow, fuck the world / The world is endin’, I’m done pretendin’”. In “DNA.”: “Look up in the sky, 10 is on the way / Sentence on the way, killings on the way”. With the apocalypse fast approaching, you begin to feel that Kendrick has no time for faith in the traditional sense. Not only does he has no time for it, he sees no use for it and gets no satisfaction from it. He might be on his knees lamenting, but he is not going to beg either. Like he says, he has “done cried for this shit” and that he’s willing to “put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit” (“ELEMENT.”). In “XXX.”, a song he describes as “controlled chaos”, an acquaintance loses a son to the streets and comes to him so he can “philosophin’ on what the Lord had done”. The man sees Kendrick as someone who’s been “anointed” and begs Kendrick to pray for him and show him “how to overcome”. But instead of providing spiritual comfort, Kendrick coldly shuts him down: “I can’t sugarcoat the answer for you, this is how I feel / If somebody kill my son, that mean somebody gettin’ killed”. He then goes into anger mode and preaches revenge, boasting that he’ll even wait to kill his enemy as he is leaving a church service. This, of course, reflects back to what he says in “ELEMENT.”: “I might take a life for this shit”.
In TPAB, the homeless man whom Kendrick blows off reveals himself to be God, but in DAMN., the old blind woman he tries to help turns around and shoots him dead. This switch is dark stuff; Kendrick no longer views kindness as a gateway to heaven, but as an act of weakness that can destroy him. This cynical view harks back to the anger he has expressed before towards God, although not to same extent as he does in DAMN.. In “How Much A Dollar Cost” from TPAB, he ends the song (or parable) with the lament: “I washed my hands, I said my grace / What more do you want from me?”. In “Untitled 1”, a track from his bonus album Untitled Unmastered, he weaves together a picture of the end of days from The Book of Revelation. He “pulled out his resume” when faced with God’s judgement, but instead of humbly pleading his case to get into heaven, he goes on the defensive: “I made To Pimp a Butterfly for you / Told me to use my vocals to save mankind for you / Say I didn’t try for you, say I didn’t ride for you / I tithed for you, I pushed the club to the side for you / Who love you like I love you?” This is defiant Kendrick, roaring in the face of the almighty. Hurt. Wounded. Asking God, “What is going to be enough for you?”
While the overall narratives present GKMC and TPAB as Kendrick’s New Testament, DAMN. is undeniably his Old Testament. In this album Kendrick’s God is not a figure of liberation, redemption or grace. DAMN.’s God is a jealous God. He is a demanding God. He swaggers with millions in his pockets, “laughin’ to the bank like, ‘A-ha!’” (“GOD.”). He is always hovering over Kendrick’s shoulder, passing judgement and testing his resolve. In “FEAR.” Kendrick even questions whether God sees him as Job and is testing him. (“All this money, is God playin’ a joke on me? / Is it for the moment, and will he see me as Job?”) The song also features a voicemail from his cousin Carl, who quotes Deuteronomy 28:28 – “The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart” – and presents the thinking of the Black Israelites: people of colour are a “cursed people”, and until they return to God’s commandments, “these curses are gonna be upon us”.
Goddamn you Goddamn me Goddamn us Goddamn we Goddamn us all – Kendrick Lamar, “FEAR.”
Hip-hop artists have been rapping about black spiritual movements for years, but while Kendrick himself declares, “I’m a Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo’” on the song “YAH.”, it is unclear to what extent he actually believes the teachings of his cousin. Being cursed means having your free-will taken away; it means you are already damned (excuse the pun) whatever you do. It is nature winning over nurture. And it is, as Kendrick says on “ELEMENT.”, a case of “damned if I do, damned if I don’t”. Yes, he talks of the “wickedness” in his DNA that “won’t let me involve in the light of God”, but at the very end of the album (“DUCKWORTH.”), he explores the other side of the coin, too. “DUCKWORTH.” tells the real-life story of how his father Ducky and Anthony or ‘Top Dawg’ (the head of his label who plugged him from the streets of Compton and into hip-hop superstardom) first met. Many years ago, Anthony planned to shoot up the KFC where Ducky worked, but decided against it after Ducky showed him kindness, befriending him and giving him free food. This one decision, Kendrick argues, “changed both of their lives”. If Top Dawg had killed Ducky, Top Dawg would be serving life in jail and Kendrick himself would “grow up without a father and die in a gunfight”. This story, of course, undermines the theory of the curse, which says that we have no free-will; that resistance is futile. This one decision by Kendrick’s father and Top Dawg “reverse the manifest”. It proves that good things can happen when “you take two strangers and put ‘em in random predicaments / Give ‘em a soul so they can make their own choices and live with it”.
However, being Kendrick, he simply refuses to leave you with a straight answer. He keeps asking more questions. At the end of the album, everything rewinds back to the very beginning – to him taking a walk one day and encountering the blind woman. This can be an indication that the entire thing has been a dream sequence – that none of the events we’ve listened to has happened yet. (Kendrick himself has alluded to this possibility in an interview.) But the Collector’s Edition that was subsequently released seems to call this theory into question. The Collector’s Edition is the album played from back to front, completely changing the entire narrative of DAMN.. Instead of Kendrick feeling hopeless and tortured (“DNA.”, “ELEMENT.”, “FEEL.”, etc.) to him being liberated with the realisation of free will in “DUCKWORTH.”, his journey descends into chaos and death. In this alternate narrative, he is doomed from the very start. Cursed. He is stuck in a pre-destined cycle of destruction. And so the question is raised again: “Is it wickedness or is it weakness?” (BLOOD.) Do we suffer because of our inherent wickedness and doomed fate? Or do we suffer because we fail to overcome our weaknesses?
It is an intriguing thing: the ever-present dichotomy between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God in Kendrick’s music. Can such contrasting ideas of the divine exist in the same space? Can both portrayals of God be balanced against each other? Kendrick himself seems to think so. He writes in response to a DJBooth article which discusses the different ways in which he and Chance The Rapper talk about God: “As a community, we was taught to pray for our mishaps, and He’ll forgive you. Yes, this is true. But He will also reprimand us as well. As a child, I can’t recall hearing this in service…I feel it’s my calling to share the joy of God, but with exclamation, more so, the FEAR OF GOD. The balance…. I love when artists sing about what makes Him happy. My balance is to tell you what will make Him extinguish you”.
I am not here to judge whether Kendrick’s views of God are right or wrong; that is not really the point of DAMN.. Rather, the point of DAMN. is what it does or what Kendrick has intended for it to do. DAMN. illustrates how difficult it is to find and create goodness in a wicked world. It is to make you ask questions of the person you see in the mirror. It is to make you consider the choices you make in your life. And, like Kendrick, it is to make you examine your own psyche first when faced with the chaos of the world. Whatever your view of the God in DAMN. is, Kendrick’s complicated relationship with him highlights how desperate we are to make sense of our pain. That perhaps, despite of our flaws and cynicism, we are still, as Kendrick himself says, just “running in place trying to make it to church” (“Untitled 1”) .