How Systemic, Real-Life Violence Inspired Netflix’s Latest Crime Drama

JoJo Whilden / Netflix

Instances of police brutality, particularly against men and women of color, are unfortunately a recurring event in America. Social media is littered with hashtags created in a memory of slain children and adults who many believe never received the justice they deserved. And on Feb. 23, Netflix’s new crime-thriller, anthology series Seven Seconds (executive producer: Veena Sud) will pull straight from the headlines — many headlines. Although Season 1 isn’t based on one particular real incident, creator Veena Sud drew inspiration from numerous real-life cases to create the series.

According to production notes provided by Netflix, Sud was especially moved by the death of Tamir Rice, who was only 12 in November 2014 when he was shot by a Cleveland police officer after he mistook Rice's toy gun for a real weapon, per The New York Times. No charges were be brought against either the officer who fired his weapon or his partner, who was also on the scene. Additionally, the cases involving Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray — all black men and reportedly unarmed at the time of their deaths — really stuck with Sud.

“I was inspired to write Seven Seconds after turning on the news every night, watching in horror all the seemingly endless stories of police violence,” Sud said in a press release for the series. “There were so many questions, and I needed to understand the story behind the headlines. How does something as systematic as this happen, over and over and over? That was the real heart of Seven Seconds. What I saw on TV, in front of my eyes, made telling this story crucial and necessary.”

JoJo Whilden / Netflix

In Seven Seconds, the main character’s name – Brenton – was also inspired by a real-life victim of a flawed justice system. As reported in a 2000 article in The Guardian, a Florida teen named Brenton Butler was arrested while on his way to submit a job application to a local Blockbuster video store. He was charged with robbery and murder related to a shooting death at a motel. Butler testified that the police coerced a confession out of him using physical abuse, which formed the basis of the prosecution's argument. The teen was eventually acquitted of all charges, and both State Attorney Harry Shorstein and Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover admitted that the arrest and charge were wrongful, per News4Jax.

"His name was inspired by the real Brenton Butler because his story was so intensely heart wrenching and illuminated the travesties of the justice system criminalizing innocent young Black men,” Sud said in a statement provided to Bustle by Netflix.

JoJo Whilden / Netflix

Seven Seconds tackles the controversial issues of race relations between law enforcement and the people they serve in this New Jersey-set series. In an instant life is forever changed when 15-year-old Brenton is run over in Liberty State Park by a white police officer, who flees from the scene after his fellow officers arrive. Brenton lies in a pool of blood in the park the middle of February for 12 hours before being found. And while Brenton’s family and the unlikely duo that is Prosecutor K.J. Harper (Ckare-Hope Ashitey) and Joe “Fish” Rinaldi (Michael Mosley) search for answers, the officers responsible for the cover-up attempt to keep their secret under wraps.

“The only kind of story I wanted to tell about police violence in American would have to be no-holds-barred,” Sud said in the release. “It had to be a thoughtful examination of the issue, open to the truth of the racial history of this country, and honest about the brokenness of the criminal justice system. Nothing easy or feel good or simplistic.”

The series is also loosely based on a Russian movie, The Major, which depicts an incident involving a police officer offer who accidentally hits a teen with his car while frantically driving to the hospital for his child’s birth, according to Den of Geek. Similar to what happens in Seven Seconds, the accident subsequently leads to a cover-up by the cops’ colleagues.

Fortunately, Seven Seconds holds true to Sud’s promise on holding nothing back. Focusing not just on the harrowing crime at hand, the series also hones in on the aftermath of the tragedy and the devastating toll it takes on everyone involved. And while the characters might be fictional, the things they go through are very much real.