How the Black Lives Matter movement inspired Netflix's newest drama

Veena Sud's new Netflix series might be called "Seven Seconds," but it's a story that she's been building in her mind...

Posted: Jan. 24, 2018 1:10 PM
Updated: Jan. 24, 2018 1:10 PM

Veena Sud's new Netflix series might be called "Seven Seconds," but it's a story that she's been building in her mind for more than two years.

It was born, she said, shortly after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died in April 2015 after suffering a neck injury while in police custody.

His death spurred protests and riots in Baltimore. It was one of a string of high-profile officer-involved shootings that put a spotlight on the relationship between law enforcement and black Americans, a conversation that led to greater awareness of and activism by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sud recalled feeling like every night she was turning on the news to see "yet another account of a young black man or a black child being gunned down in the street."

"It was the right time to start thinking [about] how to tell this story and make that attempt and open that door," Sud said in a recent interview with CNN. "But that's really where it all started for me -- turning on the TV and seeing what was happening every night in America."

"Seven Seconds" revolves around the hit-and-run of a black teenager from Jersey City at the hands of a police officer who attempts to cover up his crime.

What unravels is a story that takes a hard look at the flaws in the justice system and attempts to reveal what Sud, formerly an executive producer on "The Killing," calls the "human stories behind the headlines."

Clare-Hope Ashitey stars in the series as a dispirited prosecutor named KJ Harper who takes up what seems to be a open-and-shut case, before realizing that justice won't easily be served.

Regina King and Russell Hornsby play the boy's distraught parents.

Beau Knapp, Raul Castillo and David Lyons play a trio of cops involved in the case.

Focusing on a hit-and-run rather than a police-involved shooting was a conscious choice by Sud, motivated in part by her desire to showcase an important piece of imagery that she thought was worth reminding people about: a young black teenager injured and left for dead.

"One of the most provocative things for me watching all these killings happen on television and in our national fabric is, over and over and over hearing and seeing these young people, whether its Tamir Rice or Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin left on the ground for so long," she said. "It's such an incredibly violent and horrific thing to think of a child lying in the cold...that was such an image that encapsulated that certain lives matter in this country and certain ones don't."

On the show, 15-year-old Brenton Butler is hit by a car driven by an off-duty police officer in the morning and he is not found till much later that day. The crime scene is a disturbing one.

Sud calls the show's take on that tragic picture "clearly a metaphor for what's going on in this country in terms of police violence."

Though the conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement and police violence have somewhat faded from the headlines, Sud says she knows the activism continues on. She hopes "Seven Seconds" does a small part to bring the conversation "back into the national consciousness."

"Seven Seconds" is an anthology and should it get picked up for another season by Netflix, Sud anticipates focusing on another political issue but still using Jersey City as the story's backdrop.

The series debuts February 23. The first official trailer was released Wednesday, first on CNN.com.

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