Crime against African-American people in America is a hot topic, so hot that many works of fictions are made on the subject. I am no expert, far from it, but I’m always interested in filling some of the blank in my own knowledge, to complement the limited information that we get in the press. So recently, I have read and watched back to back two works on the subject, that are very different, both in terms of media and treatment.
The first one was The Hate U Give, first novel from Angie Thomas. It follows Starr, a high school girl who witnesses the murder of her friend by a policeman. She tries to avoid having to talk about it publicly or even give a witness account of the event until she can’t take it anymore and comes to realise that her silence is making it worse for her friend’s memory.
Then I followed with Seven Seconds, a Netflix show created by Veena Sud (The Killing US) about a cop who accidentally kills a young boy on his bike, but leaves him for dead until he is found by a passerby hours later. In this one, the story follows all the protagonists. It focuses on the prosecutor, KJ Harper, but also shows the perspective of the cops, the family and the witness.
First, let’s focus on what make them stand apart. The first obvious thing is the type of crime: while The Hate U Give depicts a cop who shoots a kid because he thought he was armed (which becomes his line of defence), in Seven Seconds, it starts with an accident (texting and driving), but becomes a conspiracy of four officers (the first cop is helped by his colleagues) to cover the crime.
Then, Angie Thomas is so focused on her main character (who narrates the story) that every one else serves her narrative. In that regard, it takes a lot from coming-of-age stories, but on top of teenage feelings, family troubles and the discovery of adulthood, her friend is shot dead in front of her eyes. Nevertheless, the other characters are not accessory, they have deep personalities and reasonably lead Starr in her path. Veena Sud’s story is at the complete opposite. It wants to show everyone’s side. Not so you can empathise with the killer, but to understand everyone’s motivation.
Now, in the end, both stories have huge similarities. They both showcase the death of a young black boy who has links in the drug rings, which is used by the media to steer the public opinion, and the family tries to disprove it, both stories keeping the suspense on the matter until the end. They also show that cops can get out of killing black people pretty easily, even when evidence of wrongdoing is staggering, and the novel and the show keep realistic about it. The verdicts are neither over-dramatic or optimistic, they only reflect the current situation.
But that’s not where they draw the biggest interest. Their main feature is that they both show a tormented character who feels helpless and with the help of a few people, will rise to the challenge and help the cause. Starr is still a teenager, and the choices she makes will echo all her life and define her. Her story ends with the discovery of who she want to be, and it could only have happened because of the choices she made with or against the good will of her friends and family. In Seven Seconds, KJ has hit the glass ceiling, is haunted by a past investigation, and she gets to investigate this death that has no hope of leading to a conviction. As she gets discouraged and then supported by the only policeman who actually gives a crap (and serves as a comic relief), she has to face barriers and obstacles to uncover the truth. In the end, even if she doesn’t really win (nobody does, seeing their faces), she gains the respect of her peers, and most importantly, her own.
So, are they worth reading/watching? Definitely. The Hate U Give brought me several times to tears. It’s very powerful, and I was staying late at night to finish it. It is also refreshing to see that it is full of humour despite the serious subject. Seven Seconds is also good. Being 10 episodes, it trails sometimes, mainly because of the mother-uncle’s ark, which tends to be sloppy, and some moments at the end when it goes over the top. But the series is so well played by Clare-Hope Ashitey, and even though it didn’t create the same effect than Angie Thomas’ novel, I still recommend it because it’s a really important story and it makes a lot of efforts to remain honest, especially by keeping the human side of all characters.