Disclaimer: This article contains major spoilers from Netflix's Seven Seconds.
In Netflix’s new crime drama, Seven Seconds, British actor Zackary Momoh makes not only his U.S. television debut, but he steps into possibly what is the biggest role in his acting career to-date.
Photographers: The Riker Brothers, Grooming: TJ Romeland
Momoh portrays Seth Butler, a veteran who has returned home to Jersey City after serving in Afghanistan nearly 12 years on back-to-back tours. As he returns home, his nephew, Brenton, has been killed in a hit-and-run, leaving his family in disarray. The years of conflict between him and his older brother/surrogate father Isaiah (Russell Hornsby) escalate to new proportions as Zack takes back to the streets in order to support the family. Because of his experience at war and the struggle he has adjusting to civilian life, Seth is the only one who relates to and understands the particular grief and pain of his sister-in-law, Latrice (Regina King).
He loves his family deeply, but he and his brother have tension,” Momoh told Shadow and Act. Not to mention the fact that Isaiah is a devoted Christian churchgoer and Seth, for much of the series, is a non-believer. “They’ve never seen eye to eye. He’s someone who's had a past growing up in the streets and with crime which is one of the reasons why he was forced into the Air Force at a young age by his older brother.” Isaiah forces Seth into the military for him to get away from the very gang that Brenton is connected to at the time of his death. However, in the season-long exploration and subsequent reveal of who Brenton Butler really is, we learn that he is the farthest from that.
In Seven Seconds, the character of Seth is struggling to adjust to being a civilian. Through the series, when he’s not dealing drugs to help the family, most of the time you won’t see him outside of a uniform.
He explained, “A uniform has been his identity for most of his adult life, so now he’s (not only) having to come back to the family in disarray and what’s happening to his nephew, but also trying to figure out what’s going on in life outside of serving. How do you get a job now? You go to the VA, and the jobs are not there. How do you make money? How do you be a burden to the people around you? How do you deal with the aftermath of being in a war-torn country so many years of your life?"
Seth’s storyline in Seven Seconds doesn’t just speak to the experience of veterans returning home, but the plight of black soldiers in particular.
“You see this element of you’re going there and you do all of this work for your country, and you come back and into the city and everything is black and white. You have no job prospects. They tell you to go on food stamps because there is no work for you,” Momoh explained, saying that he spoke with a lot of veterans in his research for preparing for the role.
“Many are under the assumption that when returning, one soldier would be the same as the next regardless of race, creed. But hearing of how black soldiers don’t get the same opportunities, the show touches on that in the experience of Seth Butler and the focus of the flaws in the justice system.”
Seth was the family member who knew the most about Brenton before his death. When asked if Seth knew the truth about Brenton’s sexuality, Momoh says yes. “Brenton was almost like Seth’s son. He would come to Seth. They would always Skype him over those years. He couldn’t really speak to his father, but he could always speak to Seth. There are things that he wouldn’t have blatantly told Seth (in reference to his sexuality), but he would read between the lines,” said Momoh.
“He’s accepted Brenton and tried to be there for him in this very important moment of his life. There’s one thing that Seth was trying to deal with himself was the relationship that he and Isaiah had. Isaiah was like a father to him, and had to take on the responsibility of being a father from a very young age. He practically raised Seth, and that has created so much animosity between them, so Seth feels it is his duty (to be there for Brenton) after seeing him doing the same things that he used to do with him — always strict and making him feel guilty before he’s done anything."
Momoh says a lot of the strains of these relationships were a part of the black father’s experience. “The plight of the black father trying to work and take the family of the projects. In the act of working that, they lose a bit of that understanding and listening. This is where Seth and Brenton’s relationship became stronger despite being thousands of miles away from each other, he knew so much more about Brenton than Isaiah.”
At the end of the series, after reconciling with his brother, we see that Seth decides not to go back on a third tour of duty.
On what happened to Seth at the conclusion of the season, Momoh said he could speak on particulars because they actually shot scenes for storylines that were cut to flesh out the court case, but he says in his opinion, “I believe Seth started to question his spirituality. He didn’t have a home, he didn’t really buy into the mantra of ‘God’s got us,' especially due to war and animosity toward the church. Isaiah and Latrice did so much for the church and gave them so much money, and yet, just to bury their child, they were charged bereavement care packages. For him, after everything, he’s going on a journey of maybe finding out his spirituality because there is nothing for him to rely on, and that is a scary prospect for him. Back in the day, it was the street. That was brotherhood for him,” Momoh said noting that Seth realized that tie was strained when he found out the street gang’s connection to the corrupt cops and how its leader, Messiah, knew the truth about Brenton’s death.
He continued, “It’s not the army, he served 12 years for supposedly the freedoms of the country and when he comes back they treat him like ‘other.’ He would be on a deep quest to really find out what is there for him. Is there a God? Which God?” — citing a scene in the series in which Seth has a run in with a Muslim veteran who asks him to pray with him.
On what he hopes audiences take away from Seven Seconds, Momoh hopes we notice the miscarriages of justice on a daily basis and for people to see the “humans behind the headline.”
Photographers: The Riker Brothers, Grooming: TJ Romeland
“It speaks to today. Black people dying at the hands of the cops. You see families on the court steps, but you never really see or hear how that affects them behind-the-scenes. You never get past the soundbite-level. It's about time we start to humanize these stories. They won’t just become another name. Maybe people will start to feel a bit more. People turn into a hashtag and we start to lose the compassion, even if we mean right. The more people speak out loud, the harder it makes for people not to listen.”
Seven Seconds is streaming on Netflix now.