If youre 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 CJs 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. Whats surprising here is the films heavier subject matter: The story kicks off when CJs 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 Calvins life.

The Spike Lee production about Black teenaged scientist on the quest to save a friend's life debuted at this year's Tribeca Film Fest
Director Stefon Bristol. Photo courtesy of Stefon Bristol.

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 Peeles 2017 horror hit Get Out, Bristol doesnt treat the sci-fi genre as an escape from the uglier truths of our age. Hed rather face that ugliness, and weave it into a genre-busting storyline thats 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 films 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.

See You Yesterday, Tribeca Film Festival
Dante Critchlow and Eden Duncan-Smith in ‘See You Yesterday.’

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 Bristols mentor and a major influence on his work.

I take from him the diversity of how Black people are shown on screen. Its 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. Its one of the factors which drew Eden Duncan-Smith, now a physics major in her sophomore year at Hampton University, to play CJ.

The Spike Lee production about Black teenaged scientist on the quest to save a friend's life debuted at this year's Tribeca Film Fest
Duncan-Smith and Critchlow as kids. Photo: Stella Magloire

Shes 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, youd think they were old friends. And you would be correct. Theyve 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-Smiths, 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 wasnt sure how it went, and he said, Ill 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.

See You Yesterday, Tribeca Film Festival
Sebastian and CJ hard at work in their laboratory.

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.

Its time, said Duncan-Smith. Its time for black teenage scientists and for a real discussion about police brutality.

You can catch See You Yesterday on Netflix starting May 17.

Alex Williamson

Alex Williamson is a Brooklyn-based reporter whose work has appeared in Brooklyn Eagle, Queens Eagle, Gothamist and elsewhere.

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