“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right”

- Mark Twain

Seven Seconds on Netflix


When 15-year-old black cyclist Brenton Butler dies in a hit-and-run accident (with a white police officer behind the wheel of the vehicle and his narcotics team behind him) Jersey City explodes with racial tension. This crime drama explores the aftermath of the accident, which includes an attempted cover-up by the police department and a volatile trial. Assistant prosecutor KJ wants to prosecute the hit-and-run as a hate crime, in addition to a negligent homicide. The longer the case drags on without a resolution, the more tense the situation becomes. Emmy winner Regina King stars as Brenton’s churchgoing mother, Latrice.


Seven Seconds on Netflix – Overview

Seven Seconds is how long it takes for Pete Jablonski (Beau Knapp), a young white police officer, to run over Brenton Butler, a black teenager on a bicycle, in a New Jersey park.

The accident happens in the blink of an eye, but after that everything else moves at a much slower pace. A provocative, timely premise and some solid-to-wonderful actors (Regina King as KJ).

Seven Seconds on Netflix – Opening Scene

In the opening scene, after his car spins off the road in snow and he discovers a child’s bicycle crushed under the tires, Pete Jablonski calls his narcotics partners) from work: they’re all cops in Jersey City, and they’re not going to let one of their own go down for killing a young black man. When Pete wavers at his friends’ plot to frame an elderly white vagrant for the crime, they tell him that it’s bigger than him: “They are going to fuck you for Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore … I want you to think about what kind of father you’d be behind bars.”

Seven Seconds on Netflix – Opening Characters

Brenton Butler is the son of a middle-aged, middle-class black couple: his mother Latrice (King) works at a private school full of snotty white kids; his father Isaiah sweeps blood at a slaughterhouse. They go to church, they’re waiting for the return of Brenton’s uncle from active duty in the Middle East. No one’s too clear on what Brenton was doing in the park that morning – “probably a banger”, a white detective says, because he’s a racist – but that doesn’t matter. Latrice holds a vigil by Brenton’s bedside in the intensive care unit while Isaiah goes back to work and struggles to express his feelings.

And then there’s KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey). She’s the assistant district attorney, a beautiful young black woman with a drinking problem and an evident determination to get to the bottom of the case if she doesn’t get caught for a DWI first. Harper’s drinking – we’re introduced to her as she drinks in a bar prior to going into court and messing up her evidence – is one of the first flags that this show is probably not going to be an incisive examination of race and police brutality. There’s just no reason for alcoholism to be one of Harper’s key character traits except, perhaps, because lawyers on shows like this so often drink too much. Perhaps her backstory will eventually reveal the root cause, but in the first two episodes it just feels gratuitous, a waste of time for a perfectly interesting protagonist.Advertisement

“Fish” (Joe Rinadi), the detective assigned to the case, has a similar lack of complexity: besides being racist, the early episodes reveal that he has a lot of dogs. That’s just who he is: a dog man.

Meanwhile, Jablonski’s struggle is expressed through tension with his wife, whose character traits are “pregnant” and “loud” and “a white lady from from New Jersey”. They argue in a car, and in the room that he’s preparing for the baby, even though he’s stricken with guilt over killing someone else’s son. She doesn’t understand why he’s being so emotional and not paying attention to her.

Seven Seconds on Netflix – Insight

The anthological drama explored race in America through a story involving the hit-and-run of an African-American teenager by a white Jersey City cop (Beau Knapp) and the crime’s subsequent cover-up by the mostly white police force. 

Veena Sud adapted “Seven Seconds” from Yuriy Bykov’s “The Major,” a Russian action film about a man who hits a kid on the road, setting it in Jersey City with a Black Lives Matter storyline. “I was turning on the television and seeing on a nightly basis another shooting by a police officer by another black man — Michael Brown, Freddy Gray, Tamar Rice — ‘What the fuck is going on?’ I wanted to tell a story of police violence. I wanted not to pull any punches, to be as truthful as I can. And it was important for the story not to create false happy endings.”

The lead role, inspired by Paul Newman in “The Verdict” — a young lawyer who masks her stress with alcohol — was a bitch to cast, as it had been with “The Killing,” when Mireille Enos came in to read for the detective lead with the pilot director Patty Jenkins at the last moment. This time, with pilot director Gavin O’Connor in prep, after scores of tapes and auditions, Sud was watching “Children of Men” on TV and saw a young actress who said “fuck off” to Clive Owen. “Who is this woman?” she asked. “I needed a fighter, a woman who could show deep vulnerability and fragility and brokenness and be able to go all the way to the end of the spectrum and fight like hell.”

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