How 'The Killing' Backlash Influenced Veena Sud and Her Netflix Drama 'Seven Seconds'

7 Seconds Still and Veena Sud - Inset - Getty - H 2018
Charley Gallay/Getty Images (Sud); Courtesy of Netflix (Still)

Still expecting a mea culpa from Veena Sud about The Killing? Don't hold your breath.

"I was saddened and surprised by some of the reaction, especially on social media," Sud tells The Hollywood Reporter when asked to reflect, six and a half years later, on the show's divisive season one finale. "Look, at the end of the day, creators make artistic choices. That's what we do. What I learned, though, [is that] when you're a woman creator and you make a choice that may not be popular, the endless demand for public apology is something that male creators don't go through."

Certainly, Sud is hoping for a less-critical reaction to her forthcoming Netflix series Seven Seconds, her second collaboration with Netflix, which revived The Killing after it was famously axed at AMC. This time, the showrunner tackles the thorny issue of race in America through a story involving the hit-and-run of an African-American teenager by a Jersey City cop (Beau Knapp) and the crime's subsequent cover-up by the mostly white police force. For Sud, teaming with Netflix on the ambitious project was a no-brainer after the company saved her previous series from cancellation not once but twice, allowing her to see her vision through to completion.

Sud's tendency to explore the darker corners of the human experience is deeply ingrained. Both her parents, she says, grew up surrounded by war, and they were often unsparing in their recollections. As a child in the Philippines, her mother was captured and tortured along with her own mother and sister, leading to recurring dreams that evoked both unimaginable horror and transcendent beauty — a dichotomy that has become a hallmark of Sud's artistic work.

"She had dreams constantly about being chased by soldiers up into the mountains," says Sud. "In her dreams, she was able to get to the top of the mountain and fly away. It's in some ways a beautiful story, and in some ways a completely macabre thing to tell a child. I guess that stayed with me, that we are capable of terrible and beautiful things all at once."

It is a mark of these rapidly changing times that a woman of color is in a position to dive into her obsessions on screen the way men have had the privilege of doing for decades. Sud, whose The Killing was frequently compared to Twin Peaks, like David Lynch often begins with a single visual and builds her story from there. "With Seven Seconds, the driving force from the very beginning was, what does blood look like on the snow?" she says. It is this combination of intense drive and fertile imagination that have garnered Sud admiration from collaborators who describe her as both a visionary boss and a giving creative partner.

"Veena is a stunning leader and is breathtakingly intelligent," says Enos, who reunited with her former showrunner on Sud's upcoming feature directorial debut Between the Earth and Sky. "She has absolute clarity about the worlds she creates and understands collaboration and generosity of spirit. I admire her."

"She's like a freight train," adds Fox 21 Television Studios president Bert Salke, who developed Seven Seconds with Sud after the studio produced The Killing. "Once she has an idea, you have to be really on your toes to disavow her on it.… She has a single-mindedness of purpose and mind that I think has been especially important for a woman of color rising through this business. It's been an engine for her, and I don't think there's gonna be any stopping her."

Indeed, Sud understands she's still an outlier in an industry that has remained frustratingly unwilling to provide equal opportunities to women and people of color. When discussing the #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite campaigns, she notes that despite recent gains, 80 percent of shows are still run by men and 90 percent by white creators of either gender. "The bottom line is, these stories that aren't just about white guys are getting so much traction and so much attention, and people are hungry," she says. "We're all hungry, no matter who we are, for different stories and different ways of looking at the world. It's to all our benefit. And so the industry should recognize that, that this is not about charity. This is about representation and about good storytelling."

"It's interesting, because in over 30 years in this business, working with Veena will only be the fourth time I've been on a project with a woman in that position," says King, who enjoyed a breakthrough dramatic role on the Ann Biderman–created drama Southland. "So, personally, it's bittersweet. It's bittersweet because I feel a sense of pride and excitement, but also a tinge of disappointment because the opportunity is rare."

As for Seven Seconds, the future is unclear beyond these first 10 episodes. The hope is for additional seasons, with old characters returning along with new in an anthology-style format that will remain rooted in Jersey City (where the creator herself once lived). "This I think in our mind can go on for four or five [seasons], even more," says Salke. "Each year will be a chapter…in the book about that city and what's going on in the struggle to survive in urban America today."

In the meantime, Sud clearly feels blessed to be working with a company whose outlook and ambition mirrors her own.

"The culture at Netflix is and always has been one of welcome to the artist," she says. "I feel like they're very brave, far more than probably a lot of places I've worked at. And that's why they are they are who they are.… They're not afraid."

Neither is she.

All 10 episodes of Seven Seconds premiere Friday, Feb. 23 on Netflix.