Netflix’s Seven Seconds creates a narrative that refocuses the perspective on police brutality and the dehumanization of black bodies. This pivotal show perfectly captures how events transpire after a black child is killed by a police officer.
First, everyone is focused on the child’s death and the child’s family in their beginning stages of grief and how everyone reacts differently, depending on their own experiences and backgrounds. Before you know it, we stop focusing on the child and more on the darkness the child may have hidden. The media shifts to why he should be dehumanized: shoplifting, marijuana, a photo with the middle finger sticking up.
We get all of these perspectives in the first four and a half episodes, and because of how normalized these processes are, you simply accept the narrative in the way it’s given to you as you watch the show.
As you’ll find in my review of Netflix’s Seven Seconds Episodes 1-5, the story then makes confusing turns. We see Latrice refuse to cooperate with the police and instead seek justice in civil courts. We see Isaiah fail to cope with his own intimacy issues to support his family. We see a previously nuanced antagonist show his capacity to be a simple villain. And all you’re left with are questions.
What you’ll later realize is that this strategic shift signals the answers to these questions. However, the story must first turn all you thought you knew, and were comfortable with up until now, on its head to achieve the true answer: America isn’t built to protect black men.
I know what you’re probably thinking: how is this new news? Well, it’s new news, because according to this story, what contributes to this toxic environment for young black men is our own communities and families.
No one in Brenton Butler’s life allowed him to keep his inalienable rights–life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let’s start with life.
Unlike the young white boy Latrice helps find in the first episode, no one finds Brenton. A dog leads the way to his body. While his father was at work, his mother was trying to be a good person, and both parties were later at church, Brenton Butler was bleeding out in a ditch, alone.
As we find out in the finale, Jablonski sees Brenton’s body, Nadine knows of Brenton’s body, and all 3 narcotics officers, DiAngelo, Osario, and Wilcox, see his body, but no one deems him important enough to check for life. Although the cause to protect black children might seem dead, it’s still alive, waiting for someone to deem the cause worthy enough to save.
This leads us to liberty. If you’ve chosen the police’s side, you see how they are not infallible beacons of liberty. As Brenton gets dehumanized, the police officers gain a lot more humanization and with those human qualities come flaws, biases, and hatred that shape how they function in and out of their uniform.
With this knowledge, it makes a lot more sense why DiAngelo attempts to kill Nadine, why he puts a hit out on DiAngelo, why Osario murders Nadine, and why Jablonski drives away from the accident.
Because of this, Brenton doesn’t get liberty from the cops, and later we discover he doesn’t get liberty at home either. His father is too busy providing to express his love for his son. Therefore Brenton can’t be an openly gay black boy for fear of getting his lover killed by the Kings and of being accepted by his father and society, etc.
As a result, Brenton couldn’t truly keep his right to the pursuit of happiness. As demonstrated by his uncle and his father, his options were working himself to the ground, joining a gang (which he wasn’t built for), or risking his life for a country that doesn’t care about him by going to war, all the while, living a closeted life with his boyfriend.
Brenton’s obsession with seagulls was about his yearning for actual freedom because he was never truly given it. And that’s exactly what his mother realizes when she goes to the pier. It’s why she doesn’t help the police. Because, at this time, she truly believes Jablonski hurting her child was an accident.
She doesn’t want to strip him of his freedom, and by effect, leave his own son with an oppressed life. She simply wants Jablonski to admit what he did to her son, and by that effect, the only thing it would cost him is material things like money or a house.
To drive these themes home, there were two haunting images we always came back to in the show: Lady Liberty and Lady Justice.
In this episode, we see the haunting images of the monuments at the end of the first and last episodes of the season and the personified black women who represent them, Latrice and KJ, respectively. While Latrice tries to give her son liberty in death, KJ tries to give Brenton justice in the same way.
At the end of the first episode, Lady Liberty is a small figure, out of focus in the back. You don’t see if her gauntlet is lit because you can hardly see her. What’s in focus at the end of this shot is the bright red blood of Brenton smeared across the snow.
Similarly, at the end of the finale episode, the lens focuses on Lady Justice. With the way the camera angles, we see the scales are incredibly tipped and Lady Justice can’t see it because she’s blindfolded to the truth and she can’t fix it because she has a weapon in her other hand.
These images speak volumes and this narrative reveals so many truths. This series and the stories and themes it explores are so important in so many ways. Props to Netflix for producing another original series that is just as powerful as it is heartstopping and gutwrenching.
All ten episodes of season one are now available on Netflix. What did you guys think of Netflix’s Seven Seconds? Did you cry just as hard as I did every episode? Did it make you pace and scream at the tv, too? What prevalent themes did you all notice?