Disclaimer: This article contains major spoilers from Netflix's Seven Seconds.
From the creator of cult hit The Killing, Veena Sud, Netflix’s new crime anthology series, Seven Seconds, is certain to spawn numerous conversations -- from biases in the criminal justice system, to the plight of the black parent, to the experience of the black veteran, to societal implications of widespread homophobia.
The story centers on a white rookie narcotics cop Peter Jablonski (Beau Knapp), who due to distracted driving, fatally hits a black teen named Brenton Butler. Jablonski calls his co-workers, corrupt cops who insist that they cover up the crime. Prosecutor KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Asheity) and detective Joe “Fish” Rinaldi (Michael Mosley) are tasked with the case as Butler’s family, mother Latrice (Regina King), father Isaiah (Russell Hornsby) and uncle Seth (Zackary Momoh), as well as the community at large, are impacted by the incident.
Newcomer Corey Champagne, in his first major role, portrays Kadeuce, a tortured teen and Brenton’s childhood best friend who knows more than meets the eye about the situation at hand. In my review of the series, I called his performance during the reveal of who Brenton really was and the nature of their relationship the most riveting moment of Seven Seconds.
During the season, it seems Brenton’s humanity has to be justified by the fact that he was a good kid and came from a good family. This image is shattered when it comes to light that the bike Brenton was riding was affiliated with a local gang, and that he had a record for juvenile drug possession. Kadeuce and Brenton remained close as ever through the years, despite Isaiah wanting to keep them apart, citing Kadeuce as a bad influence. Through hints each episode (including a photograph that was highlighted in numerous scenes) and in a showdown with Isaiah, Kadeuce reveals the nature of their relationship, which had become romantic. This is why Brenton was riding that bike, which belonged to Kadeuce, on his way back home when he was hit.
Champagne talked to Shadow and Act in-depth about the character and the representation he brings to television.
“You can say he (Brenton) lost someone he was romantically-linked to, but really he lost his best friend. They grew up together. When I had conversations with Veena (Sud), the most heartbreaking thing about it was that they were not able to define their relationship was. They grew up best friends and had that connection, but at some point things started to shift in terms of their connection to each other. The night before he got hit was the first time they finally discussed it. That was what was so heartbreaking for me when portraying the character. They didn’t even get to define what the relationship could be or the possibilities because he was taken away that next morning. They knew what was going on, but never fully defined it”
When being forced to accept his son’s sexuality, Isaiah throws Kadeuce out of his house. While on the stand during the murder trial when asked what Brenton was doing before he was hit, Isaiah emotionally reveals on the stand that he was with his boyfriend. KJ, piecing the dots together, realizes this is Kadeuce and brings him in to testify on-camera in front of the judge and the defense in order to protect his identity. Prior to this, when revealing the truth to Isaiah, that the bike was his and he and Brenton were together the night before, he says that the only reason he was still dealing drugs within the gang was to save up enough money so they could leave town so they could be “free,” saying “boys like us don’t make it out of here.”
Champagne says that line could be left up to interpretation. “On one hand, it could be looked at as ‘boys like us’ -- boys who want more for their lives, boys who don't want to be stuck in this place no one ever leaves, but also for the romantic standpoint of them wanting to get out of there so they could live our lives the way they want to.”
For this intense scene, Champagne explains, “This is the same guy who pushed him away his whole childhood. You wouldn’t show this man this type of emotion. (He felt) if he says something (negative), I’m going to kill him. Deep down he needed the release, but he didn’t want to give him a lot of emotion.” Isaiah shifted the matter to being about him and his faith, and it wasn’t about that. He was so caught up in his own ignorance that even in Brenton’s death he couldn’t see what was going on.”
After his testimony, Isaiah and Kadeuce reconcile after Isaiah finds him beaten up in his motel room, presumably because of the fact that he was brought into the courthouse and testified. He takes Kadeuce in, only for the teen (despite pleas from Isaiah and Latrice) to decide to go live with family in Alabama, as Jersey City didn’t seem like home anymore without Brenton.
The actor hopes that people don’t view the fact Brenton and Kadeuce’s relationship isn't shown on-screen as a cop out, and at the same time, he hopes the diverse representation of their characters are embraced by the black community.
“I just wanted the black community to appreciate it. I didn’t want the hotep conversation of feminizing the black man. People like Brenton and Kadeuce exist. Often times, people (condemn) same-sex connections on-screen because they are presented in a sexualized way, but with Kadeuce and Brenton, you never see them together. So now, people don’t have that excuse of not wanting to see men kissing on screen. Now, you just have to deal with this hate that you have, not anything you saw on screen. Kadeuce didn’t have to testify. He didn’t have to say anything, but he saw how media and the defense was tarnishing Brenton’s name and image. He did that out of pure love. He risked his own life to protect Brenton. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.”
On what pushed him to reveal, Champagne says, “I think that when you’re suffering in silence, Kadeuce didn’t even have a place at a funeral. He was forced to go back to his everyday routine. Part of it was to help clear Brenton’s name, but it also to let it out because he was suffering alone and it was painful.”
In our conversation, Champagne mentioned how portraying the duality of the character of Kadeuce was of particular importance to him.
For me, what was important in telling his story was making him three-dimensional when it came to his aspirations, like when he told Isaiah that he wanted to have a ranch one day,” he explained, noting that he thought it would be beneficial to add books that Kadeuce was reading on the stand in his motel room in order to show that he had these goals. “He wasn’t just a gang member and in the life because he wanted to be in the life. He wants so much more and many like feel as if this is their only option out of their situations.”
With this being his first major role, the young actor says he would have never expected a character like Kadeuce to be his first introduction to audiences, but is incredibly happy that he has the opportunity to do so. “I’m playing three things we as a black community think is detrimental -- gang member, drug member, and he is/was in a same-sex relationship. I never expected this to be the role that put me out there, but what I’m so happy about that is that this is a three-dimensional character and not just an archetype. I want to play roles that are real to life and expand the conversation.”
For this role in particular, he told us, “I hope it to opens people’s eyes that when they see a headline, they don’t take it at face value. The media is complicit in a lot of that separation. Here, we do see what happens from the beginning and how it gets twisted through the judicial system and in the media. I hope that the next time people will look at a headline, they go beyond that and see that there are humans behind it and black lives do matter.”
As viewers all over the world have tuned into the series, Champagne says he is shocked and super appreciative of the responses in support of his character. "The response to the show and Kaduence has been surprising and overwhelmingly positive with audiences. I really commend Netflix for releasing this show and this story in over 193 countries around the world. To have people from the U.S., Australia, Sweden, Brazil, Germany and all over the world reach out to me about how this story and character has touched their lives makes it all the more worth it. I couldn't thank Veena and the writers room enough."
Seven Seconds is streaming on Netflix now.