“‘See You Yesterday’ and the Perils—and Promise—of Time-Travelling While Black,’ by Maya Philipps (May 27, 2019)
“Loopholes, resurrected characters, plot resets, ever-branching arcs: time travel is an infinitely flexible conceit, limited only to its own pseudoscientific rules of causality. The new Netflix movie “See You Yesterday” makes an unusual contribution to the time-travel canon while highlighting one of its most prominent flaws: the racial privilege baked into these stories, or the dangers of time-travelling while black.
From Marty McFly to James Cole and even Wolverine, time travellers are almost always white and frequently male. It’s a practical choice on the part of writers. Post-Reconstruction? Not a problem. Colonial times? Let’s make it a three-day weekend. Time-travel shows and movies tend to fall into one of two categories: quaint personal journeys and heroic quests. In stories like “Back to the Future,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and “The Butterfly Effect,” the scale is that of a personal narrative, with a white protagonist comfortably insulated from a larger racial history. On the other hand, in stories like “12 Monkeys,” “The Terminator,” and “Timecop,” the central conflict is so large—apocalypse, dystopias, national or global disasters—that the narrative can easily sweep past issues of race. (As for forward time-travelling, the future tends to be surprisingly post-racial, as evinced in “Star Trek” and “Doctor Who.”)”
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