In this month’s documentary about black films, They Gotta Have Us, actor David Oyelowo proudly stated that we are in the beginning stages of a second black renaissance in film. It seems more like a third if you honestly think of it. There was the Harlem Renaissance, in the late 1990s when black films moved away from “hood” films, and made “positive black films” (like The Best Man, The Wood, and countless others) that showed African Americans just living everyday life: not slave narratives, or drugs and gangs, just black folks being regular people as they navigate their everyday lives. This year already started off with a bang with The Photograph, showcasing a black love story between two charismatic leads, and only a few weeks later, we get another gem showcasing a quintessentially and authentically black love story in Premature.
Aryanna (Zora Howard) has just graduated high school and is spending her last summer with her girls, just hanging in Harlem. Not a care in the world, just some good old fashioned fun, hanging in the park, talking smack to each other, and chasing boys (and having boys chase them) before they move on to the next stage in life. Everything changes when she runs into Isaiah (Joshua Boone) at the park playing basketball with his friends. Aryanna plays it smooth at first, but after a second run in, he charms her for a quaint date and the two immediately hit it off.
Before we delve into how great this film is, we have to speak about the elephant in the room. Having graduated, Aryanna (in the movie as actress Zora Howard is really in her late 20s) is 17 years old, maybe 18 years old, and Isaiah is “grown” as Aryanna’s friends state. He’s probably between 20-23. While the couple’s ages don’t seem to be too far off, there was a small “ick” factor that you had to move past. Besides the comment from Aryanna’s friends that Isaiah’s a little older. Even after an argument with one of Aryanna’s friends he comments that her friends are “young.” The film makes a point that every move forward in their relationship is done by Aryanna’s advances. She kisses him first, she initiates sex between the two of them. Director Rashaad Ernesto Green definitely doesn’t want the film to get bogged down in any #MeToo type of fashion.
That said, the relationship between Aryanna and Isaiah is majestic. This is mostly due to the writing by both director Rashaad Ernesto Green and Aryanna herself, Zora Howard, who in addition to acting is a poet in real life, which suits her character who also is great at poetry. Both Isaiah and Aryanna are artists. She has her poetry, he is an upcoming music producer. There’s a great moment in the film where they are having a discussion of art and activism with some friends that seems to be a part of a broader conversation about what responsibility black creatives have in their art when it comes to activism. Never does the writing or the dialogue feel melodramatic. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite, it’s very authentic. The only gripe I found was the two of them dancing in what appeared to be the West Indian Day parade (which happens during Labor Day Weekend) and not during peak summer when this story takes place. Besides that, the writing is dynamic. Having the lead writer her own dialogue and the director direct the dialogue he writes also helps them film be more authentic.
Speaking of authenticity, this film is peak blackness. Taking place in Harlem, we are removed from the hipsterness of gentrified New York City and Premature showcases a little bit of the old New York before the rent got high. The film starts on the subway and gives you a very real approach, not Aryanna and her friends and they are loud, unafraid to speak their minds, and full of the New York state of mind. They have their own stories, like Aryanna’s friend who has become the de facto mother for her own younger sister’s child as she runs around, not caring for her kid. Aryanna also has a complicated relationship with her mother and doesn’t approve of her mother’s dating choices. Isaiah’s father left him and only gave him records behind, which is why he’s attracted to music. There’s a great scene where Isaiah argues with one of Aryanna’s friends about a police shooting and whether or not black men or black women have a bigger target on their back in their everyday struggles, a discussion topic that exists within the black community. While Premature visits these types of issues, it does it without being preachy.
For those who were disappointed with the lack of steaminess in The Photograph, don’t worry, Premature got you covered. When I say there’s black love in this film, there’s plenty of black lovemaking as well. You get to be treated to all the passion and goods you can see on screen without it coming across as pornographic. Speaking of viewing blackness on screen, the directing, cinematography (thanks to cinematographer Laura Valladao), and lighting is also great. Sometimes capturing black skin on film is difficult for some movies, but not only do they capture dark skin well, but every shade in between as the film showcases the diversity of all the colors black people come in.
Premature tells a great story of a summer of love as well as the trials and tribulations of not only having a first love, but also the heartbreak that occurs with such a relationship. You may end up taking sides as Aryanna and Isaiah butt heads with each other as past girlfriends, jealousy, ambition, and other things work against their relationship succeeding. Ultimately, this is a great ride as you get to see a well-acted (watch out for Zora Howard as she’ll be a star soon enough), well written, and authentic tale of black love, something we need to see a whole lot more of on the big screen.