Premature is set in Harlem, and though this tale of a May-December love carries a universal theme, its unabashed specificity is its calling card. Passionate to its core and featuring a sublime collaboration between director Rashaad Ernesto Green and lead actress Zora Howard, Premature is an audacious indie film that’s simply hard to shake.
Director Rashaad Ernesto Green and actress Zora Howard co-wrote Premature’s script, and years ago they collaborated on the 2008 short Premature (they are different narratives). Howard was born and raised in Harlem, and Green, who shot Premature in 16mm, has spent the past 20 years living in the city. Their respective love for Harlem is infused into the feature, and thankfully there are no arbitrary shots or wasted moments to weigh down this intimate tale.
Ayanna (Howard) has graduated from high school, and in the fall she will leave Harlem from an out of state college. These next several months should be spent with her gregarious best friends and flirting with the guys around town, but fate walks in with another hand.
Isaiah (a charismatic Joshua Boone) is a twentysomething musician who is immediately smitten by Ayanna, and although she rejects his advances several times, persistence is the key. During a getting to know you walk around Harlem, Isaiah shares his love for music (his late father was a talented musician) and his desires to become a producer. Ayanna, who pens poetry in her journal, may have been attracted to Isaiah on a pure surface level, but his artistic dreams and outlook on life seals the deal. She commits to him, as many fearless teenagers do, with her mind, body, and soul. Isaiah may be coming from a more mature place, but even he gets swept away in the romance.
Credit goes to Green and Howard for not turning this into a stereotypical May-December romance, where the older person imparts advice on the younger lover and they each move on to their respective lives. Premature is not interested in the tropes of romantic dramas set in New York, and while there is value in following that equation, there is always something more to be said.
During a nighttime conversation about art and commerce, Isaiah remarks how John Coltrane wasn’t thinking about the signs of the times while making his seminal work A Love Supreme. Instead, he was expressing his art while living in the moment. It takes guts to reference John Coltrane and Charles Mingus (if I’m not mistaken, a picture of Mingus adorns Isaiah’s apartment wall) in your story, and that decision may backfire. That said, it was hard for me to watch Premature and not think of jazz’s innate evocations of life (a great example is Mingus’ Scenes in the City). Thus, Premature’s references to these greats felt more of an organic addition to the story than a homage.
It’s also refreshing to see Ayanna act as a real person who makes her share of mistakes. We have a bird’s eye view of her uninhibited sexual chemistry with Isaiah, understandable struggles with her mother, and disconnection from her friends due to her latest union. In crafting a fully lived-in character as opposed to delivering an aspirational protagonist, Green and Howard deliver a bracing dose or reality sans the preachiness.
Premature is a love story between two people who are trying to get it right, no matter what the cost. Trying to attain that goal, even in its seeming simplicity, is an often breathtaking experience (as Ayanna writes in her journal, “What did I know of my heart before you gave it shape?”). A fully fleshed out story of love, heartbreak, and growth, Premature is an inspired indie film that is worth putting on your radar.
Rating 4 out of 5
The feature is now playing in theaters (in New York and Los Angeles) and is available on VOD platforms.