As Hollywood attempts to move the needle more and more on the gauge of diversity and inclusion, Veena Sud is doing her part to make sure that she is doing her part to not only put more stories from marginalized communities on the screen, but to make those narratives resonate with all audiences.
As the showrunner of Netflix’s Seven Seconds and The Killing, Sud is more than aware that she is in a minority when it comes to television showrunners. As a woman that is of Filipino and Indian heritage, she knows that there is still plenty of ground to break and obstacles to overcome.
“According to a recent study by Color of Change and UCLA, 80% of showrunners are men and 91% are white in this industry,” she tells Deadline. “You do the math.”
Sud has tackled heavy and rich issues with her shows. Most recently, her Netflix series Seven Seconds, came in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement as the show follows the investigation of the death of a young Black boy and how his family copes with the tragedy.
As an Emmy-nominated writer and one of the few female showrunners of color in the industry, Sud talked to Deadline about the importance of art in the current political climate and how her culture and the lack of Asian representation influenced her career. She also reveals her vision of Sex and the City that will make you say, “I wish that happened!”
DEADLINE: Did you always aspire to work in television and film? Was there a particular film or TV show that made you say, “I want to do that!”
VEENA SUD: I’ve always written stories, even as a little girl, dark brooding ones. My first was about a pony and it started with the line; “Today I died.” Fun kid. My parents let us watch pretty much everything and I reveled in Hitchcock, MASH, Twilight Zone. A local PBS channel played Zefferelli’s uncensored cut of “Romeo and Juliet” (yes there was actual nudity) and movies like The Deerhunter. I knew I wanted to put images and words together early on, but didn’t know it was an actual job.
DEADLINE: Many immigrant families always pressed for a more “stable” career path rather than something artistic. Was your family supportive of your choice to go into TV and film?
SUD: My parents gave up trying to tell me what to do early on, they were just happy I didn’t flunk out of school. Plus, they had no idea what a screenwriter was, they didn’t think it was a real job (“Don’t the actors just make up the words?”). When I got my first staff job they watched the show to see my written by credit but they must’ve blinked or something because they missed it and thought I had just made it up. It wasn’t until I got a producer credit (and they saw it on screen every week) that they told all their friends, since, for some reason, being a producer seemed like a real job.
DEADLINE: What did Asian representation in entertainment look like for you growing up?
SUD: What Asian representation? Other than the movie Gandhi and the extras in Vietnam war films, no one who looked like me was on TV or in film. No one had speaking roles except for the cartoon character Apu and the singing Filipinos playing Puerto Ricans in West Side Story. That’s what it looked like.
DEADLINE: Seven Seconds is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. How has cultural movements and your Filipino and Indian heritage informed your work?
SUD: Certainly, my own lived experiences have influenced my work. When I entered this industry in 2002, stories about Indians and Filipinos weren’t exactly marquee material — see “Asian representation” above — so I wrote “universal” stories and got in brown folks and women who weren’t sporting bikinis as much as I was could. But to be clear, no writer should be mandated to write only her own “culture” — all sorts of characters live in us. Like Stephen Holder in The Killing and Fish Rinaldi in Seven Seconds — somewhere inside of me is a snarky, ex-addict, dog-obsessed white boy who keeps popping out.
DEADLINE: The social climate tends to dictate — intentionally or not — what we see on film and TV. We see it with Seven Seconds. With all that is happening in the world, where do you see TV and film headed next?
Censorship by the new Gilead that’s on our American horizon? I’m only kinda joking because, given the ding dong in the White House and his virulent attacks on the free press, no one is safe. Yet here we find ourselves, in a time when art truly matters. We can tell stories that reflect the truth of our times, that show the real America — not some Breitbart dystopia fantasy — or we can continue to devolve in the Roseanne direction. Let’s hope we use our powers for good.
DEADLINE: With The Killing and Seven Seconds, you have tackled some heavy issues. Is there a genre you’d like to tackle that you haven’t — perhaps a comedy?
I tried writing a comedy spec once, Sex and the City. It ended up depressing and horrifying anyone who read it. Apparently Samantha getting lip injections and going to the ER with “exploded” lips wasn’t that funny. Nor was a baby-hungry Charlotte stalking pregnant women and getting all single white female on them. So no, a comedy is probably not in store for me. Ever.