Netflix’s latest foray into the sci-fi time travel genre, See You Yesterday, takes on a difficult issue with class. It’s is about a young girl, CJ, played by Eden Duncan-Smith, and her best friend who travel back in time to stop her brother from being shot by police when he reaches for his cellphone. If you haven’t figured out from that description the characters are black, I don’t know what to tell you.
Time travel isn’t easy, and a large part of the movie is concerned with trouble-shooting the apparatus, experimenting with what’s possible, and watching CJ avoid nasty characters out to get her in each iteration of the time continuum. For the most part, it sticks to laymen definitions and keeps it light.
At one point, as thugs chase the time travelers wearing Ghostbuster-like packs on their backs through a park in wide-frame, CJ and her friend knock things over, interrupt chess games and jump over playing children. It’s a scene that would be perfect in a slapstick comedy. Then, mere seconds later, CJ’s brother gets shot and things go sideways–literally, the camera barrel-rolling 720 degrees–as though the writers finally gave up their heroic effort to treat the subject lightly and stopped struggling against the source material.
Like the best stories, it’s fun until it’s really, really not. The fun and games are over. No one is laughing.
This is a tragedy. No unarmed American should be shot by law enforcement officers.
Yet, this is reality. Director Stefon Bristol and producer Spike Lee do it justice. The time travel element allows the characters to show it doesn’t matter how respectful, submissive, or compliant they act, someone is going to die that day. It’s also not an unsympathetic portrayal of police officers, who are in hot pursuit of legitimate criminals. You can almost see their pulses racing. Still, mistakes have been made.
We’re left with the image of CJ, a young black girl, running into the camera–the future–with her time machine strapped to her back, the knowledge that she can never travel far enough into the past to change America’s legacy of racism somehow etched on her features.