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During her last months before starting college, on a summer night in Harlem, 17-year-old poet Ayanna meets up-and-coming music producer Isaiah, and a rapturous, life-changing romance begins.
Zora Howard, a talented spoken-word artist in real life, stars at Ayanna. She also co-wrote the film with director Rashaad Ernesto Green. Joshua Boone stars as Isaiah.
On the surface, it’s an indie coming-of-age romance set during a hazy Harlem summer. Just months before leaving for college, Ayanna (Zora Howard) meets a man a few years older, Isaiah (Joshua Boone), who just moved to New York to become a music producer. Against Hudson River sunsets and seductive, sequestered moments in a sound studio, they bond over songwriting and poetry, and soon find themselves surrendering to an all-consuming relationship. It’s all new to Ayanna, who loses her inhibitions—sexually, emotionally, and creatively, as her poems begin to finally flow freely. She doesn’t realize she’s in love until she starts to hurt.
The hurt is where the story begins to depart from expectations. Told from Ayanna’s point of view, she sharply articulates the ache she suddenly feels: when she begins to suspect he’s reconnected with an old flame; when she’s with him and everything seems okay; when they’re in the throws of passionate sex.
Age is an undercurrent, and it raises the question of why 17 is considered the line in the sand. Ayanna sits at the precipice of independence, college, official adulthood.
While Isaiah’s actual age isn’t specified, he acknowledges the significance of their gap at one point, dismissing her friends as being “so young” after they challenge what they think is his sexist point of view. But Ayanna sees his reference to their age as a reason why he seems to be pushing her away.
The story takes a darker turn when she learns she’s pregnant, and she’s abruptly forced to confront just how young she is, and the consequences of all her lost inhibitions, the whole summer of too much, too soon.
Premature explores “the very real ways that love heals, that it transforms, that it tests and changes us.” — Nijla Mu ‘min, Shadow and Act Full review
A provocative, steamy, and heart-wrenching story of a first love that delivers a breakout performance, sharp writing, and a visceral feeling of being dropped straight into a hot summer night in Harlem, young and heady with infatuation and possibility.
If you’re young and unsettled, late teens on up, watch this one with your friends. They are the salve that gets Ayanna through the highs and lows of her first big love.
For the older and wiser, watch it with your significant other. You’ll be reminded of what young love felt like, while being grateful you are well past the worst of it.
It’s rated TV-MA, and while Alanna is 17 and Isaiah is a few years older, the film makes it clear she has agency. But the question of whether, at 17, she’s ready for the consequences of the relationship, the full weight of it, all by herself, is central to the story, and one worth debating.