A New Blerd?: Recognizing and Reimagining the Brilliant Black Girl Image Through Spike Lee’s “See You Yesterday”

Curator's Note


There are a million boys and girls
Who are young, gifted and black
And that's a fact!
- Nina Simone (1969)

There’s a long history of negative Black imagery in the media. In recent years, there’s been an  influx of popular culture counter stories via feature films and Netflix specials displaying the brilliance of Black children. Spike Lee’s Netflix Film, See You Yesterday (2019), combines sci-fi culture and Black social realities (Higgins, 2019) to tell an interesting story about the Black Lives Matter movement, Black families, police brutality, and their reimagined future. 

Claudette “CJ” Walker is a teen girl whose brilliance in STEM complicate the image of Black girlhood. The nuanced characterization reimagines brilliant Black girls, not as some unreachable hypergenius prototype, but as a common or intrinsic theme, necessary for obtaining justice, saving lives, and securing the future for Black youth. CJ travels back in time to save her brother and best friend using her determination and time travel machines. Additionally, her characterization counters the mass of viral videos depicting student-teacher and student-police altercations that promote the adultification, criminalization, and sexualization that Black girls experience inside and outside of classrooms (Meadow-Fernandez, 2020). 

According to a psychology study (2019), children associate being white, and male with the 'brilliant' stereotype. Not Black, and not a woman. In line with mathematics education research, we must first recognize the brilliance in Black children as axiomatic (Gholson et al, 2012), and then note that brilliance occurs not only in classrooms, but in television and film as well. In 2016, Hidden Figures opened by introducing us to a brilliant Black girl who would transform NASA and STEM. Years later, Brilliant Black girls would headline films like A Wrinkle In Time (2018), Black Panther (2018), The Hate U Give (2018). 

Black girl brilliance, as seen in the film, is a tool used to deconstruct historical stereotypes; its Black resistance. The new Brilliant Black Girl image goes beyond the stereotypical tropes and caricatures of mammy, super strong Black woman, sapphire, jezebel, and tragic mulatto. Her brilliance, blackness and gender should not be erased, but recognized, embraced.  


Meadows-Fernandez, A. R. (2020, January 29). Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children? Retrieved from https://parenting.nytimes.com/preschooler/adultification-black-girls?utm_source=TAMUSocial&utm_content=adultification-black-girls

Gholson, M., Bullock, E., & Alexander, N. (2012). On the brilliance of black children: A response to a clarion call. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 5(1), 1-7. Available at: http://ed-osprey.gsu.edu/ojs/index.php/JUME/article/view/180/106

Higgins, K. (2019, May 17). The Cast of 'See You Yesterday' Explain How Black Culture & Sci-Fi Mix. Retrieved from https://thesource.com/2019/05/17/source-exclusive-see-you-yesterday-cast-interview/

Jaxon, J., Lei, R. F., Shachnai, R., Chestnut, E. K., & Cimpian, A. (2019). The Acquisition of Gender Stereotypes about Intellectual Ability: Intersections with Race. Journal of Social Issues, 75(4), 1192–1215. doi: 10.1111/josi.12352

See You Yesterday . (2019). Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/title/80216758

See You Yesterday. (2019, May 17). Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8743064/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt


Thanks to Dr. N.A. Ortiz, whose research and love for mathematics education and Black children allowed me to see the image of brilliant Black children so powerfully. 



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