“Seven Seconds”: The Strange Fruit of American Trees
I just finished watching Seven Seconds and there’s a lot going through my mind:
Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit rang in my ears while I sat through the escalating and cumbersome plot. Fruit that no longer dangles by ropes on weeping willows or their kin, but fruit that is stomped to death, shot to death, choked to death, and forgotten in death oftentimes by those with a badge and a precinct number. Strange fruit.
I only started watching a few days ago but I was up and fighting off sleep in order to finish the last episodes into the early morning. The show was challenging to watch two-fold due to some not so great acting early on and by the stark reality of its content. I wasn’t prepared to enter back into reality through a medium which normally allows me to momentarily escape it.
There were these moments of silence that are hidden among the episodes where reality stares an unsuspecting audience dead in their eyes. I had nothing else to do but notice how quiet it was after I’d finished the season. Silent moments like those after the final court decision in the fictional, but all too real, case of Brenton Butler. Still instances that we watch eat officer Osario (Raul Castillo) out of his own sanity. Lulled scenes where noise was cushioned in the court room seats, a moving quiet that both Latrice (Regina King) and Isaiah Butler (Russell Hornsby) try to navigate, and the unforgiving hush as KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey) stares up at blinded Lady Justice while everything seems so bitterly ironic.
The series’ reticent moments made me wonder how quiet the homes of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Kendra James, and Sandra Bland must be. How muted the walls of their homes stand without their voices to fill them. How changed their faces must seem in photos, now objects of dismal memory. How many family members woke up to what they thought was the sound of their laughter or heard a door open and thought by some miracle it was them, risen and walking. How soundless the room where their body lay on autopsy table seen by an onlooker examining such strange fruit, wondering from what tree they fell whilst standing within the tree itself.
From the show’s hidden corridors stood white male toxicity — the potency of White toxicity actually, empowered by authority, control, and ignorance. Toxicity that evangelizes uninvited, celebrates without cause, slides through systems, wages war and then fights dirty type of toxicity. Toxicity with a heart, with ethos — “He’s a good man” toxicity. Dressed in values of family over truth, self over other, blue over color (now assuming blue is outside of the color family), toxicity.
Beyond white male toxicity, Seven Seconds highlights the effects of prejudice as a drug the United States is a junkie for. Once this body of a country ODs it’s value of justice dies with it. Justice thrown into the bottom of the Hudson where it rots and fades from memory. The stench of her decay is real and audience members get wafts of it in real life after turning on the local seven o’clock news watching another Black person in their Black body inhabited by silver bullets as if custom. Some plug their noses and others just get use to the smell, whatever’s easiest. Those who refuse to buy more nose plugs and haven’t yet adjusted to the odor of a dying morale make smaller migrations to the east or west hoping the stench of decaying justice will not follow them. It made me think of the areas where I assume justice is living and well and where I know it long forgotten.
The show left me feeling overturned like Charlie Marlowe when he returned to England looking at the world as oblivious and ridiculous as it is and feeling insane while living in the midst of it. Sure, the show’s flawed but it gives audience members images of death, bitter vengeance, and evil not just as symbols but with flesh, eyes and breath. I appreciate the first season depicting the varied nature of each officer as complex and multifaceted. None of them were simple slates of discrimination but are layered examples of messes. Each character is such an example. As of now I can’t tell if the show gives too much attention the assorted characters of the crooked cops whilst giving a mere two, maybe three, dimensional depiction of the Butlers. I can’t tell if I thought the series was kitschy or if it left a bad taste in my mouth but I can tell that it’s made me think and talk a lot about it since I finished it.
It wasn’t perfect but I’m glad I watched it.