Spike Lee has another joint for us, and this one takes us into the world of sci-fi with a cast of strong Black leads and a setting that takes place in the heart of Brooklyn. Starting today, we urge you all to expand your minds, explore the impossible and get into Netflix’s newest time traveling epic that is See You Yesterday.
Directed by rising filmmaker Stefon Bristol and starring Eden Duncan-Smith, Danté Crichlow and rapper Stro — all four of them young and ready to take Hollywood by storm — See You Yesterday centers around a plot that’ll make you laugh, cry and probably want to go study quantum physics. The film takes us into the lives of two Black teens from Brooklyn that discover time travel and use it to reverse the outcome of police brutality stemming from the death of a family member. However, they soon find out that going back in time to change the past can cause some serious problems in present time, which creates an even bigger dilemma overall. The entire story arc is told with great detail that proves this film wasn’t pulled off overnight; actually, it originally started as a short film released in 2017 before Spike linked with Stefon to give it a big-budget makeover under his legendary production company 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks. Outside of a charming cast, great storytelling and even a meta cameo by Back To The Future star Michael J. Fox, the film tackles many issues that affect the Black community on all levels.
We wanted to dig deeper to get a breakdown of how it all comes together straight from the stars themselves, and thankfully The Source got to see an early screening of See You Yesterday during Tribeca Film Festival in New York City earlier this month. We spoke with Stefon, Eden, Danté and Stro to see how each of them viewed the topics and themes depicted in the film.
Keep scrolling to see what the stars of See You Yesterday had to say about making a sci-fi film that puts Black culture at the forefront of the future on multiple levels:
“I love Black people — that’s all I can say honestly [Laughs]. When I was working on making the film, I’d never seen young Black kids do STEM [Education] before onscreen. It’s funny, because I was trying to figure out how to do the time travel — should they go through a portal? Should someone else build the machine for them? — and it happened to where it just made sense for them to be the ones who invented it; you’ve never seen brilliant kids like this before. Often in movies Black children are always [depicted as] in a gang, selling drugs, being rappers or being ball players, and I felt there was more to us than that. I needed to see that onscreen, but I didn’t know there was such a need when writing [See You Yesterday]. I was seeing comments like, “This is a need!” and “I’m so glad this came out!” [The absence] was very bothersome, so I was happy to make it.
[Making See You Yesterday] required a lot of tone balance plus trial and error. I really needed to create a story about a family, and people love this family so much that you hope to see them win. When the inevitable happens, you just want to feel sorry for them and love them. Often when we see Black people being killed by police, the media will try to find blemishes in the wrongful killing with stuff like, “He was smoking weed in his apartment” or “He robbed a store before” to warrant his or her death. I made sure there weren’t any blemishes on these kids besides their own flaws in personality. That’s a very strong component in screenwriting — Make sure your characters have flaws, please! [Laughs] I wanted to make sure that when the inevitable happens, you ultimately love them for them.”
— Stefon Bristol, director
“When we started the short in 2015, I think the most important thing was to show police brutality in a very upfront way. I think the film does a really great job at showing the spectrum of police brutality, from harassing kids on the street who are just talking to their little sisters to literally killing them in cold blood. I think that’s a very important aspect of the movie that people should take from it. Other than that, there’s the aspect of Black teenage scientists. It’s something you don’t see often. The teenagers in this film go to The Bronx High School of Science, which is a crazy hard school to get into [Laughs]! People like Neil deGrasse Tyson went there, and it’s just a really great school. It’s so important to show Black teens doing really great things like inventing time travel. I think it’s definitely time to show these two aspects in the same light so we can see the fullness of Black life. We see a lot of movies of Black life at home or just socially, but we’re showing how we have to handle ourselves around the police and also us doing more than music, sports or any of the occupations apposed on us daily. We strip away at those stereotypes and it’s just important to be showing that, especially now at this time in life.
I think Stefon’s goal with [my character] CJ was that not all female Black nerds are quiet; they can be outspoken and bold. From the colors she was wearing down to the braids, it was very important to show Black culture in that way. It’s not just curly hair or a weave, because we have so many different hairstyles that we go in and out of on a daily basis. Even the variations of the way I wore my braids in the film was conscious as well. With how loud she might be or even “rough” as Eduardo’s grandmother puts it [Laughs], CJ is still very smart. It’s never a question of whether or not she is, and I hope I brought that to the character of CJ. I hope people take away that you can be big and bold yet very focused on the things you want to do in life.”
— Eden Duncan-Smith, Claudette ‘CJ’ Walker
“For this movie in general, we were trying to tackle stereotypes of African Americans in our society and the way they’re perceived due to the lifestyles they live. Having [the lead characters] be teenagers at a predominately scientific institution, being STEM students, and being sophomores in high school wasn’t a mistake; that was intentional. It was so important to have representation for younger kids to look at this movie and feel like they could aspire to be that. For adults who have been living this life already, they now have something to relate to. For me, what I wanted to bring to [my character] Sebastian was this sense of being three-dimensional in a human sense. He’s not just a Black scientist; he’s a human being trying to get into college, he’s someone who gets frustrated with his best friend and he’s just someone trying to stop bad things from happening. I wanted all those different dynamics to be there so that when you look at Sebastian Thomas, you don’t just look at him as a Black face or a number on a screen. You ultimately see him as a human being.
[Working on set] honestly felt like I was working from home [Laughs]! The first scene that has the police encounter with Calvin, his friend, CJ and Sebastian, and the guy walks by and he’s like, “Bun a fyah! BUN A FYAH!” is so accurate! I feel like I see that everyday [Laughs]. I thought those little instances and moments that aren’t necessarily dialogue are what make Stefon a genius as a director. For me, one aspect was loving feeling at home on set and the other was being part of a great piece of art. While this has aspects of police brutality, keeping the childlike relationship between CJ and Sebastian was so important. We really wanted to show that these are children and teenagers going through something they shouldn’t have to. They’re just trying to live their lives and get into college, yet there’s something in society that isn’t allowing that. Regardless of if it’s sci-fi, fantasy or fan fiction, keeping that element of reality in there shows their drive to keep pushing back. That undertone message of keep pushing back, no matter how hard the fight gets, is integral to this movie.”
— Danté Crichlow, Sebastian J. Thomas
“Making this film was surreal for me because I’m from East Flatbush. Just watching it from an outside perspective was dope because it felt like I was home onscreen. We don’t see a lot of films being shot in those parts of Brooklyn either, especially right now. They’d prefer to go to the parts everybody frequents, or just go for the brownstone aesthetic. For Stefon to take East Flatbush and show the humanity and the everyday vibe was amazing to me. As far as what we’re trying to achieve with [See You Yesterday], we wanted to spark the conversation around police brutality and the idea of a Black sci-fi film. Someone said they hadn’t seen something like this in their generation, and to be part of this is a blessing and very special to me.
My family is West Indian, so growing up in East Flatbush you see a lot of the stuff depicted in this film. It has a very homely vibe too, because even the guy with the cart in the alley gives off a vibe like that’s his spot. There’s a lot of that in Flatbush — those characters really exist there and will not be moved. Seeing it onscreen was dope, but I witnessed that regularly in real-life growing up. That’s what you get when you go over there; that whole area is just Jamaicans [Laughs].”
When I first tried acting, the role I read for I got on my first shot. That was a blessing because I never took acting classes. I’ve sat down with an acting coach maybe once or twice, but other than that it’s been me going over roles with my management, building in the living room for the most part and sending in my audition tape. People would say things like, “You have a natural, real vibe onscreen,” and I just continued to tap into that. It was never my goal to be an actor, but after seeing this film I will say that it makes me feel like I want to pursue it further. After everyone telling me they liked what I did in this film and me watching it myself, I can see why they would say the positive things. It’s making me appreciate the art of acting way more. The difference between the film world and the music industry is a matter of weird versus fake. In Hollywood, you hear stories and it’s just like, “That’s what they do; they weird!” The music industry has a lot of people smiling but it’s hard to know who’s genuine. I’m not a big actor, but I believe that whoever sees this film will open doors up for not just me, but also for Eden and Dante. The talent always comes first.”
— Stro, Calvin Walker
You can watch See You Yesterday right now by streaming it on Netflix.