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Clare-Hope Ashitey Talks Netflix’s ‘Seven Seconds,’ Imperfect Characters And Authentic Stories

February 20, 2018
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The truth doesn’t stay buried. Reality always seeks to reveal itself.

Netflix’s new anthology series, Seven Seconds is an intricate work on police/minority relations and the culpability of our criminal justice system. Set in Newark, New Jersey, the series is told from the perspective of a heartbroken couple, Emmy-winner Regina King and Russell Hornsby, a corrupt cop (Beau Knapp) and a troubled assistant district attorney, Clare-Hope Ashitey. The series opens in the wake of a Black teen’s gruesome accidental death at the hands of a cop and the stunning coverup that ensues as a result.

Exploring issues that are as glaring in our country as a pool of blood in the freshly fallen snow, Seven Seconds is visceral, painful, and raw. Ashitey received creator Veena Sud’s script a little over a year ago and was immediately intrigued. Ahead of the series debut, we sat down to chat about Seven Seconds and why she was compelled to step into ADA K.J. Harper’s shoes. “I read a lot of scripts, and they range from terrible, to mediocre, to fantastic, and this is a really good one,” the London native explained. “It was well put together, and the characters were really interesting. They were complicated, which is very attractive to me because when characters are archetypes of the hero or the villain, it doesn’t feel like it’s true, especially in a series. They’re asking you to believe this is the real world and no one is straightforward and uncomplicated. The characters in this certainly weren’t.”

Though she was born and raised in London, England—the daughter of Ghanese immigrants, Ashitey has been well-aware of the continuous incidents of police brutality against Black and brown citizens in the States, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement which has been making strides to combat those types of injustices. “We get a lot of that news in the U.K., and actually quite a lot of coverage of it,” she explained. “So it’s something that most people at home are aware of, and there are lots of names that most people at home are familiar with, so it wasn’t something that was new to me. It’s in the news now, but it’s been going on for a long, long time. I think the concept of tension, racial tension, in the American society, and also tension between the police force and the African American community, whether it’s in the news or not, is never something that’s a surprise to anyone.”

Though fictional, Seven Seconds could have certainly been ripped from the headlines. It’s Ashitey’s character K.J. Harper who stands at the center as the tormented, alcoholic ADA who is desperate to piece the case together. “I liked, that she was troubled and that she was struggling,” Ashitey said. “Watching people try to overcome adversity is quite an interesting thing to watch, and it’s an interesting thing to play, as well — it’s interesting to play with. I’m always more attracted to accurate depictions of people because I don’t think it’s helpful to have archetypes or stereotypes. I’ve been asked before about whether I thought it was difficult to portray K.J. as a Black woman, and if I was worried about issues of representation. I’m really not because I think portraying people as they are and not being one thing or another, and not trying to pretend that anyone is perfect is actually much more helpful to the conversation than trying to just put forward a perfect face or a perfect façade.”

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