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Sunday, August 25, 2019

See You Yesterday: Time Travel meets Black Lives Matter

I just saw See You Yesterday, the Spike Lee production, directed and co-written by Stefon Bristol (with Fredrica Bailey), which came out on Netflix this past May.   As a time-travel story, it's good enough.  As a narrative about the continuing murder of African-American young men in American cities by cops, as told through the mechanism of time travel, it's a crucial masterpiece.

C. J. and Sebastian (well played by Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow) are two genius Brooklyn high school kids who invent a time machine.  They use it to go a day back in time (its limit) to stop the police killing C. J.'s brother Castro (good performance by Astro), shot down by NYPD who wrongly suspect Castro of robbing a bodega.   They succeed - but Sebastian is shot and killed in the process.  C. J. goes back again to prevent that from happening, but Castro sacrifices himself to save Sebastian.  C. J. goes back one more time, and the movie ends without our knowing what happens this time ...

As I said, a good enough time travel story, by which I mean that it was done well, but we've seen the perverse difficulty of improving history via time travel, including personal history, many times before.  As a commentator on time travel and also a science fiction author, I frequently invoke the stubborn resistance of the universe to change (see, for example, The Chronology Protection Case).

But the melding of this time travel metaphysic with the brutal reality of Black Lives Matter is something we haven't seen before, and something we and everyone needs to know. C. J.'s repeated attempts to undo or prevent the cops' ill-considered, racist bullets with the same lack of result is a powerful, sobering metaphor for the difficulty of bringing to justice police who murder in our off-screen reality.   Even videos, which we've had as far back as Rodney King, beaten to within an inch of his life, don't usually help.

And the ambiguous ending of See You Yesterday similarly captures a profound and unsettling reality in the fight to educate and reform cops, and put the ones who kill innocent people behind bars.  Just as we don't know what C. J. will now do, we have no clear course of action, a pathway everyone can see, towards stopping once and for all these murders of African Americans.

But movies like See You Yesterday are part of the answer.   Getting the word out in as many ways as possible is the only way forward.   Looking into the future, I expect that See You Yesterday will become a classic in this effort.

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