Slowly but surely, buzz over the new Netflix original series Seven Seconds has been building. The show takes on an issue that Americans have been confronted with on all fronts in popular media over the last few years: tensions between police, prosecutors, and the communities they serve following a tragedy. From news programs to primetime series like Shots Fired, police violence and misconduct against people of color has been broadcast into homes all over the country as evidence of growing racial tensions. In theory, Seven Seconds is showing up a little late to the party with this script. It even stars Regina King, like Shots Fired and American Crime did before it. But there is also something uniquely different about Seven Seconds: the fact that a Black woman gets to be the imperfect hero.
Assistant DA KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey) finds herself stuck between the duties of her job and the demands from both the crooked police and a community seeking answers. She takes it upon herself to dig deeper into a case that has been open for too long. She is also a barely functioning alcoholic who can hardly carry an Anita Baker song to the end during karaoke, let alone her caseloads. She drinks on the job. She broods on the job. She fucks up on the job. But she is also the only character, with the help of lead detective Rinaldi (Michael Mosley), who is empathetic and justice-oriented enough to seek justice in the aftermath of a shady hit-and-run.
That Harper has emerged as such an unlikely vigilante is undoubtedly thanks to Seven Seconds creator Veena Sud, the woman of color also responsible for the AMC series The Killing. “I've always been interested in women who are complicated and flawed,” Sud told me about her conception of Harper. “With women, we're either superwoman or the maid. We never get to be human beings who have these multiple qualities that all human beings have of imperfection and desire to be better.” Sud gave the same care to characters like Latrice (King), who not only grieves an unimaginable loss, but is then retraumatized when (spoiler alert!) her son’s death is not prioritized by the criminal justice system.
In order to nail these details, quite a bit of effort was put into researching these subjects by Sud, King, and Ashitey. In order to create and perform in the show, Sud and King both spoke with mothers who had lost their children to gun violence. And Ashitey, who is originally from London, not only had to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in order to become KJ, she had some “catching up to do” on race relations in the U.S. Ashitey added, “Veena has written such an interesting and complex character, and I felt that she deserved fleshing out, and that she deserved exploration.”
And it’s true. On the ever-swinging pendulum of representation for Black women, there is a lot of room to cover between stereotypes and perfection. We deserve to see women like KJ struggle to get through a rough time and a demanding career. She is joining the Olivia Popes and Annalise Keatings of the television world to humanize women color, for better or for worse.