MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
The idea of time travel has been a staple of fiction and film ever since H.G. Wells introduced it in his 1895 novel The Time Machine. (It is also a plot point in a recent blockbuster film.) One thing that I have learned through movies is that while the past is always interesting, the future always stinks. I have learned to simply enjoy the present as much as possible and not try to do too much that would mess up the future for those who follow me.
But there are times when going back just a day or two in time might make a big difference.
Fortunately, C.J. (Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Crichlow), two young, gifted and Black high school juniors living in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, have designed a time travel device for the science fair that can jump back in time in small increments. The invention is a bit buggy but they receive encouragement from their science teacher Mr. Lockhart (played by Back to the Future’s Michael J. Fox!) who looks the other way when they borrow lab equipment.
Doing well in science may help C.J. and Sebastian secure scholarships to attend the prestigious colleges of their dreams. C.J. has even encouraged her protective older brother Calvin (Astro) to aim for the stars.
Family life and education are presented as positive influences in this film, but the streets of New York are not so friendly. A minor scuffle in a bodega can quickly lead to police intervention and an accidental death brought on by confusing a cell phone with a gun.
Now it’s time for C.J. and Sebastian to put that time travel device to work and do just enough to stem the violence with STEM skills.
The special effects are fairly spartan in this first feature (based on a short student film) from writer-director Bristol. Many viewers seem disappointed by the ending. But I couldn’t shake the ways in which this little film left me with something to think about. As a person who grew up with all of the privileges of a white male, I could do mediocre work in science (I have the report cards to prove it) and still make it into great undergraduate and graduate schools. If a police car pulled up to me at night I had no fear at all (in my small town, the cops and the kids knew each other by name).
Last year’s The Hate U Give preached a strong message on similar themes. What makes See You Yesterday interesting is the positivity of C.J. She believes in a better future for herself and those whom she loves, and her character is imbued with the optimism of youth.
I would encourage intergenerational viewings of See You Yesterday as a way of creating conversations about not only race, but about hope in the midst of despair. As the Bible points out, hope is hard work. “Knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-6)
Note: Parents may be bothered by the abundant casual cussing, but most youth won’t even notice.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A simple film with something important to say about race, class, family and fate.
Two pitchforks: Scenes of violence and death; pervasive casual swearing.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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