If you're a fan of intense, crime dramas, then Netflix's newest anthology series Seven Seconds (executive producer: Veena Sud) may be the one for you. Premiering on Feb. 23, the 10-episode series explores the events following an accidental hit-and-run involving a black teen and a white cop. And seeking justice for the victim's family is a determined prosecutor named KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey), who's own personal connection to tragedy keeps her on her toes. Much of the series draws inspiration from real-life cases, but KJ Harper isn't a real person.
While Ashitey gives an incredibly compelling performance as KJ, the character is completely fictional. Series creator Veena Sud was moved by the tragic deaths of black children like Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, according to a press release from Netflix. In turn, Sud set out to create a series that explored why people who look like them continue to encounter police brutality, often without any repercussions for the officers or institutions involved. Additionally, Sud wanted to explore the aftermath of such events and how they affect the community around the victims.
To help craft the role of KJ, Sud met with an African-American female criminal prosecutor in Seattle; a civil attorney with experience in cases of police violence in North Carolina; as well as Adam Foss, the former Assistant District Attorney in Boston who’s known for his TED Talk examining how unfair the justice system is regarding bail.
According to Foss' talk, the justice system has a prejudiced way of assigning bail amounts to people arrested. A person is arrested for minor infractions, then held on a disproportionately high amount of bail. When that person — often a person of color — can't pay, they wind up doing jail time. For Suds, this piece of information played a key part in how she shaped the character of KJ.
“We introduced that idea of how crucial bail reform is into the series and how it, along with other factors in the criminal justice system, end up miring communities of color deeper in a broken and blind justice ecosystem,” Sud said in a Netflix press release. “When I was building the character of KJ, her heartache revolved around assigning a standard bail amount to a teenage drug dealer, without thought to whether he could pay it or not. This is a pretty standard procedure for young ADAs."
Mild spoilers ahead. By KJ doing this, the teenager — who can’t afford to pay the bail — ends up spending a week in jail leaving his baby brother and toddler sister alone in their apartment without food or water. In turn, the baby brother starves to death and the whole ordeal rocks KJ to her core. And Sud couldn't be more proud of the intensity Ashitey brought to the role.
“When I met Clare, there was something tenacious about her – she’s extraordinarily kind and brilliant, with a great sense of humor,” Sud said in the release. “But underneath all of that is this person who will just fight and not let go and hang on with a steely determination to the piece of earth she stands on. That quality of a woman who is vulnerable and open, but underneath it all just won’t stop in the face of the most formidable adversaries, was a remarkable thing to behold and was a crucial aspect of KJ. You see how much the world has hurt her, and you admire her for the force of nature she is and you want, more than anything, for her to win.”
With Seven Seconds, tackling very-real events that many families face today, it’s important that the characters feel authentic. So while, KJ Harper, may not exactly be real, viewers can rest assured that her passion for justice is.