If you’re looking for a family-friendly flick to stream on Netflix this summer, look no further than See You Yesterday, which premiered May 3 at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Directed by Crown Heights resident Stefon Bristol, this time traveling escapade follows teenaged science whizzes CJ Walker (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian Thomas (Dante Critchlow) as they invent a time machine to save CJ’s brother.
Like any summer blockbuster, See You Yesterday takes a fun if a little far-fetched concept, places a couple of plucky misfits in the lead, then puts them up to hijinks galore. What’s surprising here is the film’s heavier subject matter: The story kicks off when CJ’s brother, Calvin (Astro aka Brian Bradley), is murdered in the street by a cop who mistakes his cellphone for a weapon, leading CJ and Sebastian to invent a time machine to go back and save Calvin’s life.
Bristol was still a film student at NYU in 2014 when he started writing the script for a short film, also titled See You Yesterday, which preceded the feature. Like Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror hit Get Out, Bristol doesn’t treat the sci-fi genre as an escape from the uglier truths of our age. He’d rather face that ugliness, and weave it into a genre-busting storyline that’s all the more compelling for its real-world relevance.
“It was during the summer that Mike Brown and Eric Garner got murdered. I was writing a script about a kid going back in time to save his best friend from being killed by his drunk driving father,” Bristol said. “But during that summer the police shootings happened and it just bled into my script.”
Spike Lee is the film’s executive producer, a connection Bristol made in 2009 as an undergrad at Morehouse College. When the veteran director visited the campus, Bristol pestered him relentlessly for an internship at his Fort Greene production company 40 Acres and a Mule.
After much pleading, Bristol got to spend a summer working for free at Lee’s production company while washing dishes on the weekends at a veterans home. Ever since, Lee has been Bristol’s mentor and a major influence on his work.
“I take from him the diversity of how Black people are shown on screen. It’s very subtle. I appreciate that, and his boldness to make artistic choices and to not really care what people think,” Bristol said. “That and hard work.”
In keeping with that commitment to diverse portrayals, See You Yesterday shows us something which Hollywood rarely does: a couple of young black science fanatics. It’s one of the factors which drew Eden Duncan-Smith, now a physics major in her sophomore year at Hampton University, to play CJ.
“She’s a great scientist, she has a great mind,” said Duncan-Smith. “Clearly. She invented time travel! As someone who loves science and would love to have more black girls in science, I thought it was very important to put that on screen.”
Duncan-Smith and co-star Critchlow play so naturally together, you’d think they were old friends. And you would be correct. They’ve known each other since the day Duncan-Smith was born, when six-month-old Critchlow swung by the hospital with his mother, a close friend of Duncan-Smith’s, to welcome her.
Critchlow grew up in East Flatbush and Duncan-Smith grew up in Bed-Stuy, but they spent a lot of time together as kids. In 2014 when Duncan-Smith auditioned for See You Yesterday the short, Bristol saw a Facebook photo of the young actress with Critchlow. He asked her to bring her pal in to audition as Sebastian and had the kids goof around together in front of a camera to get a feel for their chemistry.
“I wasn’t sure how it went, and he said, ‘I’ll let you guys know,’” said Critchlow, now a sophomore studying drama at NYU. “But Stefon has always told us that the minute we left he was like, ‘I need both of them. I need both of them in this movie.’”
It seems to have been the right call: Critchlow and Duncan-Smith make for an endearing duo, and watching them play teenaged time-traveling avengers is the catharsis audiences didn’t know they needed.
“It’s time,” said Duncan-Smith. “It’s time for black teenage scientists and for a real discussion about police brutality.”
You can catch See You Yesterday on Netflix starting May 17.