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'Premature' focuses on young black love and speaks to the power of sisterhood

Zora Howard and Joshua Boone star in this feature film about life, love and heartbreak.
Image: Premature
Joshua Boone and Zora Howard build a tender and loving relationship in "Premature," which premiered at Sundance.Courtesy of Sundance Institute

"Premature," an unexpected, complicated and unguarded film, gives us a much-needed glimpse into young black love through the eyes of 17-old writer and poet, Ayanna (Zora Howard). With Harlem, New York, as the idyllic landscape, "Premature" shows Ayanna’s freedom, youth and sometimes recklessness, as she soaks in every moment of the summer before her freshman year of college. It is through her unexpected romance with Isaiah (Joshua Boone), that Ayanna learns more than she bargained for about life, love and heartbreak.

Directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green, "Premature" begins with Ayanna and her bold circle of girlfriends, all committed to living their best lives before their new chapters begin. These young black women choose to live life with no fears or cares of consequences. Having these rich friendships that were so loud and proud, but also so nurturing and ride-or-die, was always integral to Ayanna’s story and journey.

While out with these powerhouse young women, Ayanna meets Isaiah. Isaiah is gentle, kind and has a transparent vulnerability to him that is not often reflected in black men onscreen. He is a New York City transplant who hopes to make it big as a music producer, but he suffers from his own inability to never finish anything he starts. When Ayanna first meets Isaiah, she is unimpressed and pays him no mind, but he is visibly smitten. When they meet again serendipitously at a neighborhood laundromat, she allows him in and he begins to pursue her. Their love is deep, intense, wild, passionate and free-flowing. Despite her initial reservations, she eventually opens her heart and dives deeper with Isaiah than she has with anyone else. Howard and Boone’s acting is so tender and their endearment is so palpable, that with onscreen chemistry like that, you’d think they’d known each other for a lifetime.

Isaiah, constantly searching and still struggling emotionally with the loss of his father, begins to pull away when things get too real between them. Out of this heartbreak, Ayanna makes an impossible choice and experiences something so painful and traumatic, that it changes the fabric of her being, forever. Howard gives a dynamic and really heartbreaking performance as a girl just trying to find her way and painfully learning that every choice has a consequence. She deepens her understanding of self, and very earnestly forgives and makes amends, before starting that new chapter she eagerly awaited prior to her fateful first encounter with Isaiah.

While "Premature" talks about things that happen in everyday life, it somehow captures the essence of these events from a black lens that we don’t particularly get to see. At Sundance, NBCBLK talked to Howard, who also co-wrote the script, about the film, the importance of telling black love stories onscreen, and why she hopes people will be able to see the movie on the big screen.

Why did you decide to adapt a version of this short story into a feature film?

Howard: When we first sat down to write this feature, we always knew we wanted to tell a love story. We always knew we wanted to feature black love onscreen. And then when it came time to dig deeper into the story, we knew it had to be from a young black woman's point of view. The summer before she left for college was chosen because it is a real point of transition for everyone, you know just graduating. You think you’re grown and you think you're ready to be grown. You're also met with all of these things that you had not experienced or encountered before in your life, and you're also about to enter a space that is completely different from what you've known growing up. So, we thought it was the right moment to meet this young black woman.

Speak to the power of sisterhood and women in this film and why you chose to write these women with such gusto?

Howard: As a native New Yorker, I definitely pulled from my own relationships and friendships, all of my sister girlfriends, during the writing process. We screened this before coming to Sundance and my cousins were there. Those are the women that I grew up with, because I don't have any sisters, just a brother, but those were my sisters growing up. I also pulled from some of my friends from high school, and you know, I felt like I saw all of us represented in the film. We lived for the drama, but that was us. So, it was absolutely intentional to have them be “too much,” because there is beauty in that.

This love story was so incredibly honest and raw. While Ayanna learns so much from Isaiah throughout the totality of their relationship, what do you believe Isaiah learns from Ayanna?

Howard: You know there's that scene where Ayanna says, “You think this happens all the time? It doesn't.” And, for this young woman, 17 years old to know that even doing it and falling in love for the first time, falling in love for the first time is incredible. So, yes, Isaiah is older and maybe he's even loved before, but I think she teaches him something in that it was a blessing for them to fall in love and to know each other in that way. Some people don't ever know it, and Ayanna teaches him that when it meets you in a lifetime, it is something worth relishing and letting in. Maybe because she has never done it before, she leans in more easily. Meanwhile, he’s figuring out reasons to hold back, to be reserved and protect his heart, because he’s been hurt by people in his life before. But she inspires him to lean in and I think her courage to just take it for what it is and to be present in the love, is a lesson he takes away.

So, why should people get an opportunity to see "Premature"?

Howard: It was so important to me to write Ayanna, for the same reasons that are so important that people see her. We need more images, more representations of black people onscreen. Not just actually seeing black bodies onscreen, but really seeing the black experience, true experiences. That's something I've been searching for as a creator and just as a person who consumes art. I wanted to see a black love story that was coming of age, and no grander than that. It’s small, it’s ordinary, but it’s honest and we were committed to that.”

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