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‘See You Yesterday’ Review: An All-Too-Real Time-Travel Fantasy

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

What would happen if “Back to the Future” starred black people? That’s what the filmmaker Stefon Bristol imagines in “See You Yesterday” (there’s even a winking cameo by Michael J. Fox), now on Netflix, which centers on C. J. (Eden Duncan-Smith), a high school science prodigy who builds a time-traveling backpack.

But instead of going back to the past to save her parents’ marriage, as Marty McFly did, she rewinds the previous 24 hours in hopes of preventing the murder of her brother by the police.

As in “Back to the Future,” C.J. must be careful not to change a single aspect of the past lest she provoke a different but equally fateful event. For C.J., though, doom seems unavoidable either way, turning what could have been a fun time-travel tale into an ominous, sorrowful story that underscores the expendability of black lives.

That’s a necessary message, reminding audiences that even in a world in which time travel is possible, the stakes are graver for black characters than for their white peers. In that sense, “See You Yesterday,” which was produced by Spike Lee, robs audience members — particularly young ones — of any sense of joy in fantasy and of the chance to celebrate a rare black female time traveler.

But maybe that’s the point. Black kids often don’t have the luxury of living in a reverie.

At its core, “See You Yesterday” is a story about grief and the inevitable question so many mourners have asked themselves: Could I have done anything to forestall my loved one’s death? Although the film doesn’t sugarcoat the horrors of police brutality, it does empower C.J. to think she has invented a loophole around it. That is the dream worth cherishing.


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