Contains some light spoilers.
“See You Yesterday” directed by Stefon Bristol, starring Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow premiered on Netflix this month and is the story of two Brooklyn teenagers that successfully build a time travel machine à la Back to The Future.
When CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Danté Crichlow) go back exactly one day in time, the consequences of time traveling (and being Black while reaching in your pocket) become very real when CJ’s brother is murdered by a cop. To save her brother, CJ and Sebastian dig themselves even deeper into the quantum realm to change the events of the day he is shot.
I went into this movie not knowing too much about it, other than it centered around two Black kids taking us on a time travel adventure. I was excited because I love sci-fi and there aren’t many stories that features diverse casting in this genre. I was even more excited when Mr. Back to the Future, Michael J. Fox made a cameo in the first scene.
When the main character’s brother is shot by the police I immediately knew we wouldn’t be getting a light-hearted sci-fi coming of age story (which, again, I was really really hoping for) – but another story highlighting Black tragedy and the dangers Black people face when interacting with law enforcement even when no crime has been committed. The plot was reminiscent of the 2019 Twilight Zone episode entitled “Reboot”, though “See You Yesterday” doesn’t afford itself the same happy ending.
I can’t really say I was disappointed because the conversation around putting an end to police brutality is one that absolutely needs to be ongoing. I will say, I wanted a light-hearted sci-fi coming of age story with two Black teens from Brooklyn at the forefront. I think that would’ve been very cool. So often, we don’t get stories starring Black people that are about them being three dimensional characters across different genres. A story where Black people are just…people. No focus on on pain or struggle – just a story about two kids who can time travel.
That said, I did like the movie. The pseudo-science around time travel in film is always fun to watch. Character’s throw around words like “quantum” and “space-time continuum” and we all pretend it makes sense as they inevitably break their own time travel rules. “See You Yesterday” was no exception to these shenanigans. We can definitely feel Spike Lee’s influence as the producer. The movie is beautifully shot as a love letter to Brooklyn and the Caribbean accents are Miss Cleo level of bad, to the point of comedy. I long for the day where we just hire Caribbean actors when we want the characters to have Caribbean accents, I really do.
CJ was not a great protagonist for the story as a character with absolutely no real growth. She doesn’t learn anything from her mistakes and just makes the same ones over and over again. At some point I expected her to say “hey my decisions up until this point have caused nothing but pain and destruction, maybe I should try something different!” but she doesn’t. She jumps head first back into the past, bringing back no lessons from the future.
There was no way for this movie to end that would have been satisfying.
It ends on a cliff hanger as CJ travels back in time once again, this time we don’t know the outcome. If CJ would’ve have been able to save her brother without other tragic consequences rippling through the future, then the previous 4 attempts would have meant nothing to the story. Ending it on uncertain terms made the most sense. I’d recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a good time travel flick, but beware, this one dabbles quite a bit into the Black tragedy porn arena so be prepared.