Director Stefon Bristol’s See You Yesterday is a teen time-traveling comedy adventure wrapped in a story about family, love and loss. Set in modern-day Brooklyn, and produced by legendary director/producer Spike Lee, the movie stars teens Eden Duncan-Smith (Roxanne Roxanne) as Claudette and Danté Crichlow as Sebastian. A pair of kid scientists who build time-traveling backpacks as their senior project in Sebastian’s garage. Devices which they in turn use to go back in time to save her older brother after he is shot down by police in a case of mistaken identity. Unfortunately, as we all learned in Avengers Endgame, things don’t always go according to plan when time travel is involved, and Claudette’s choices have consequences in the time-space continuum.
Bristol counts Lee as one of his heroes and approached him several times requesting to work with the famed director. Hoping that the fact that they both grew up in Brooklyn and are Morehouse alums would help his chances. But Bristol finally got his chance when he was accepted into the NYU Film grad program and Lee ended up being his professor. During the class, Bristol came up with a feature-length version of the film. See You Yesterday. But Lee sensed his student was trying to run before he learned to walk and convinced him to turn his script into a short. With the help of co-writer Fredrika Bailey, they did just that, and Lee even pitched in to providing finishing funding for the film. The short went on to win the 2018 HBO Short Film Competition (Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival) and was named Best of the Hip-Hop Film Festival. While Bristol was assisting Lee on BlacKKKlansman, Netflix came knocking and asked for a feature-length version.
The beautiful thing about See You Yesterday is how authentic it is. Claudette is a senior in high school raised by her mother and brother in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Her dad isn’t around, but NOT because of drug, gang, or police violence (which is the trope often portrayed in African-American families) but because he died in active duty in the military. Her best friend and confidant Sebastian is second generation Guyanese (as is Bristol) and lives with his grandparents, which so many second gen kids do. They both excel in their schoolwork, have teachers that care and have active, healthy relationships in their lives, this is the Brooklyn I see every day that the mainstream media never shows.
“I grew up in the hood. I grew up with other brilliant young Black people who are geeks, who are into anime, who are into stem research, who are not into rapping or playing sports,”– Stefon Bristol interview with IndieWire
The geekdom is real as the kids go from the bodega to Bulletproof Comics (an actual comic book shop here in Brooklyn). Speaking of comics, if you squint, you’ll even see someone reading a copy of BLACK as well as Octavia Butler in class. The time travel tech has shades of Iron Man, Back to the Future and Ghostbusters and is an ode to every black geek and fan of Afrofuturism everywhere. I LOVE that Claudette and Sebastian are just friends, I LOVE that that friendship is real, even when she is so overwhelmed with trying to bring her brother back she almost loses him.
But all of that love and hope and family isn’t enough to heal the hole torn into Claudette’s world when her brother Calvin is shot and killed by police after a case of mistaken identity.
As to be expected, there is some violence, and these kids curse…a lot.
So it might not be suitable for kids under 12, (but parents, you decide). The film isn’t perfect, and there are definitely some cringe-worthy moments in the script, (especially one scene where Claudette agrees to date a classmate in exchange for a magical motherboard). Overall this film is solid and shows beautiful, smart brown kids that are one opportunity away from changing the world. We need more movies like this.