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Canadian producer Veena Sud tackles U.S. racial tensions with 'Seven Seconds'

Last Updated Feb 22, 2018 at 11:40 am PDT

Veena Sud is shown in a handout photo. A new Netflix crime drama is tackling the issue of racial tensions resulting from police misconduct in the U.S. - and it was created by a Canadian. Toronto-born writer-producer Sud, whose previous credits include the "The Killing," says she came up with the idea for "Seven Seconds" after "turning on the television and seeing black men and young children being shot almost on a nightly basis." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-JoJo Whilden/Netflix MANDATORY CREDIT

TORONTO – A new Netflix crime drama explores the racial tensions resulting from police misconduct in the U.S. — and it was created by a Canadian.

Toronto-born writer-producer Veena Sud, whose previous credits include the “The Killing,” says she came up with the idea for “Seven Seconds” after “turning on the television and seeing black men and young children being shot almost on a nightly basis.”

Launching Friday, the anthology series stars Beau Knapp as a white New Jersey cop who accidentally hits a black teenager with his car. His cop colleagues stage a coverup, resulting in racial tensions in the city as the case unfolds.

Other cast members include Regina King and Russell Hornsby as the teen’s parents, and Clare-Hope Ashitey as the troubled assistant prosecutor.

“Turning on the television and seeing on the nightly news over and over and over this tragedy happening really spoke to me,” said Sud, who lives in Los Angeles.

“It was post-Ferguson, the murder of Michael Brown; post-Baltimore, the killing of Freddie Gray; and watching the courage of an (attorney) like Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore trying to take on the system and bring to justice the officers who had killed a man.”

Sud set the series in Jersey City, where she used to live, feeling the view of the Statue of Liberty with its back turned to a diverse community to be ironic.

“When I thought about police violence in black and brown communities, and the absolute helplessness or ignorance in the judicial system in dealing with it in a way that is right, it felt very fitting that the Statue of Liberty’s back was turned,” Sud said.

“The other reason is people are now familiar that it’s happening all over America, not just in the South. I really wanted to tell a story about a microcosm of every American city, that police violence is not a southern problem but it’s an American problem.”

The story features a hit-and-run case instead of a shooting partly because it provided a powerful image of a body lying in the snow for 12 hours, Sud said.

“The amount of blood that’s left in the white snow, in a place that really exists in the States, which is right across the water from the Statue of Liberty, is clearly so symbolic of the American condition at this point in our history.”

It’s a recurring image Sud saw play out in the real-life cases in the news.

“I think one of the biggest influences for me in telling this story was hearing over and over — in the wake of a shooting, in the wake of the death — how these young children and young men were left,” she said.

“Their bodies were left in the street or in a playground for hours, in full public view, uncared for, unloved. Their families couldn’t go to them, almost like a testimony to their lives not mattering enough to give them a modicum of respect.”

“Seven Seconds” has “one of the most diverse if not the most diverse writers’ room in the industry,” Sud said.

“African-American, Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, white — and the white writers are the minority — half women,” she added.

“We’re not doing it because someone is telling us to do it but doing it because these are the best writers out there … and that’s something that our industry and every industry in America has to start opening its doors to all of the talent, not just a few.”

Sud’s other upcoming projects include a dark family drama film starring Cas Anvar, Peter Sarsgaard and Joey King.

She recently shot it in Toronto, where she grew up until age two, when her family moved to the U.S.

“I’m still Canadian but it’s the first time I’ve been back in Toronto since then, so it’s special being back,” Sud said.

When conversation turned to how her Twitter handle says “Canadian-born,” Sud added with a laugh: “I definitely am not proud of being American right now.”