Runtime: 86 Minutes
Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green
Writer: Rashaad Ernesto Green, Zora Howard
Stars: Zora Howard, Joshua Boone, Michelle Wilson
By Mique Watson
“Premature” begins with a shot of girlfriends passing their days–girls in the throes of young adulthood, bantering about trivialities like “getting a bro”. It takes place one summer, during a transitionary period in young Ayanna’s (star and co-writer Zora Howard) life. She is a 17-year old girl who is determined to get out of the city to pursue an education; we are unsure what exactly she wants to study, but she lets us know she writes. Enter Isaiah (Joshua Boone), a slightly older music producer who immediately stands out to her due to his charm, charisma, and insight.
Ayanna is quickly entranced by Isaiah and his ability to hold a worthwhile conversation–it is apparent that she feels not only seen but heard. “I just wanna walk with you for a bit,” he tells her, and from there, Ayanna’s summer truly begins. Through the days, their romance blooms; a romance which writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Greene emphasizes with dreamlike cinematography (this film is presented in Kodak 16mm) and an intoxicating score.
Isaiah is a true gentleman (he makes his love for the original old-school Star Wars trilogy known; this is perhaps the biggest indicator of his personality). He is someone who is more old fashioned; someone who exudes a sense of masculinity which entails treating a woman with kindness and respect. He makes it a point to truly get to know Ayanna; their conversations together reveal she has a passion for poetry: “what did I know of my heart before I came in shape” she says in voice-over. It is apparent that he sees her–genuinely–her words are lyrics to him; her very person is music to his eyes, ears, and soul.
“Premature” brims with freshness in how it ultimately places its focus on the perspective of a young black woman and her lived experiences.
Ayanna’s story is one of a young black girl responding to the things around her; how the changes both inside and outside her gradually shape her future. There’s a very Sofia Coppola-esque quality to how her story is told–in how her inner world shapes the choices she makes.
This is seen particularly in how passionate her first sexual encounter with Isaiah is. She’s fully in the moment because of how tender he makes it for her–playing music before they begin; it’s a scene which is both achingly romantic and irresistibly sexy. This is a notably beautiful scene because it’s shot in such a way that her arousal is subjective to her; her pleasure is her own, and not that of a male viewer. The love scenes here are unlike the mechanical fucking we see in many films–they’re rich with passion and meaning, just like Ayanna’s poetry.
“Premature” brims with freshness in how it ultimately places its focus on the perspective of a young black woman and her lived experiences. Ayanna’s world is tactile and meticulously observed; it is one which lets viewers, into the lives of people living in New York’s inner city and the challenges that come with it.
There’s a particularly striking conversation about semantics (the conversation concludes with one character being chided for using the term “black male” as opposed to “black man” because apparently using the term “male”/ “female” makes the person in question sound like he/she is being referred to as a crime statistic); one which gives insight into how people who lack empathy see black individuals as mere numbers and statistics.
If Barry Jenkins and Sofia Coppola’s films had a child, it’d probably look like this.
Throughout the film, we hear Ayanna’s poetry through voice-over–her verses give us a glimpse into her inner world: “what did I know of my heart at 17”. She is introspective–she thinks a lot, but hardly ever out loud; with her poetry, she guides us through the developments of her inner world. A turbulent inner world, which changes as she navigates her relationship with Isaiah: the jealousy issues; the disagreements regarding who they should/shouldn’t be spending time with; the kinds of people they should/shouldn’t keep in their lives now that they’re serious about one another…There is one particularly gut-wrenching scene where she makes a terribly difficult decision all by herself.
This is a terrific showcase for Howard; her raw, honest, and passionate performance had me in awe. Ayanna’s story is one subjective to her–one about how a young black woman navigates her opportunities, relationships, timing, age, and this whole confusing mess we call life. If Barry Jenkins and Sofia Coppola’s films had a child, it’d probably look like this.
Signature Entertainment presents Premature on Digital HD from 6th January