Rashaad Ernesto Green Interview on Creating a Different Black Cinema with Premature [Exclusive]

Rashaad Ernesto Green
Rashaad Ernesto Green’s Premature Starring Zora Howard and Joshua Boone

Rashaad Ernesto Green was the winner of Someone to Watch Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards this year for Premature. And if you watched the film, you’ll understand why.

Critics and audiences have praised premature for its relatable romantic drama.

The film stars Zora Howard and Joshua Boone in this romantic affair. Rashaad Ernesto Green directed their performance from a script that he and Howard wrote together.

Here’s the synopsis:

Teenager Ayanna (Howard) is making the most out of her last summer in Harlem before heading to an out of state college. She’s not looking for love—until she meets the handsome twentysomething musician Isaiah. After falling for him, Ayanna finds herself torn between her vulnerability and self-sufficiency. As the story progresses, we understand her desire, heartbreak, and despair through poetry that she writes to express how she feels.

LRM Online spoke with director Rashaad Ernesto Green over the phone about his sophomore feature film. from the short film of the same name, which also starred Zora Howard years ago. Additionally, he sought to develop a story that portrays a different black cinema—without victimization and violence.

Premature is now playing in select cities in New York and Los Angeles. It is also available on VOD.

For more information, visit its official web site here.

Read the exclusive interview below.

LRM Online: First of all, congratulations on the nomination at the Spirit Awards. I spoke to a couple of your producers there. That should have been a great honor.

Rashaad Ernesto Green: Thank you so much. Yeah, we came home with one.

LRM Online: Oh, really? Excellent. Well, that is a great celebration for you. Tell me how Premature came about for you? Did Zora [Howard] first initially approach you with the script, and then you came on board? Or was it the other way?

Rashaad Ernesto Green: No, it was nothing like that. Premature was a short film first that I wrote and directed when I was at NYU graduate film school. The short premiered in 2008. I had known Zora since she was 11 years old and cast her in that short film when she was 14.

That short film was about a young woman who gets pregnant in the Bronx and how she has to deal with her family and the community. Zora and I had been very close ever since that process. I’ve known her for the last 15 to 16 years, in which we have grown up right around the corner from each other.

Zora went on to pursue acting school. We’ve been talking for years about collaborating again but didn’t know precisely on which project. We’ve been mentioning it for years at holiday parties that we should do something together. She always told me, “I’m just waiting. I’m just waiting for you, brother. Just tell me when.” It was like that.

I had been working in television for the last six years. It came to a point where I was a little frustrated that I hadn’t made a feature in a while. I had written a couple of feature films during that time, but they need a little bit more financing than I had access to at that point.

I decided to make a feature on a budget to make something. So I reached out to Zora, and I asked, “When are you home?” She had a winter recess break at the end of 2016 into 2017. It was a month that she would be home. I said, “Cool! Let’s take that month, and let’s throw something down on paper.” We didn’t know what it was going to be, but we’ll write something together. I told her, “You’ll star in it. I’ll direct it. We’ll premiere this film in Sundance 2018 or Sundance 2019.” We started asking ourselves what we wanted to write.

We challenged ourselves. What do we feel is missing in the present-day black cinema? Oftentimes, black cinema explores things like black victimization, fear, and death. We wanted to explore something on the other side of that equation. It was a call from our own life experiences to write about what we knew is love.

Artistically, we wanted to contribute something that spoke to black love and black life as opposed to death and suffering. We started throwing out ideas, talking about our lives. At the end of that month, we had a scrappy script with a love story. While we were writing, themes from the short film with character, place, setting, and events from that short film began to creep their way into our writing this love story. The two blended into each other. It became Premature, the feature.

LRM Online: How did you incorporate the real-life love stories into this because it was a coming of age story? What was it from your personal experiences, or was it from Zora’s?

Rashaad Ernesto Green: I don’t think it’s an either-or situation. I had the insight to Zora being a young black woman at one point in her life. We both had been through heartbreak before. Both of us had significant relationships before. We used the parts of our personality to shape these characters. It wasn’t necessarily based on a specific relationship, but what might have been if aspects of ourselves were in a relationship together.

With Isaiah, I could say there’s a lot of influence from me. Zora would help shape Isaiah, likewise with Ayanna. Ayanna has some influence from Zora being a young black woman in Harlem and a poet. But, I also gave all of myself to Ayanna as well. We didn’t leave all of the characters on screen. We made it three dimensional as we could, and we pour ourselves into those characters.

LRM Online: Moments ago, you mentioned that you wanted to do something different for a black cinema. What do you suppose was lacking in black cinema that we could see in Premature?

Rashaad Ernesto Green: In the current landscape, we often see films that deal with black victimization, oppression, death, and violence. That’s not what we’re doing with Premature. Premature was presenting a love story between two young people that are universal enough for anyone can relate to it.

There are two ways to approach gaining empathy from an audience. One is to showcase characters where you’re asking for sympathy from the audience because their lives are so different from yours. There’s another to present characters that are very similar to you that you can relate to because of the experiences that you’ve had in your own life. The characters happened to have brown and black skin.

LRM Online: I admire that you related this to the characters the latter, which is pretty good.

Rashaad Ernesto Green: I hope that comes across.

LRM Online: It comes across for me. Tell me about the cinematography approach that you wanted for this film. What was the mood that you want to set?

Rashaad Ernesto Green: Laura Valladao was my cinematographer. She’s wonderful, out of NYU a few years ago. We dreamed about shooting on a 16-millimeter film. A lot of the movies for inspiration were either from the seventies, eighties, and even from the sixties. We wanted to have it have a nostalgic feel of not something from a specific time and place, but from all time and places. This is an aesthetic that would last.

We grew up watching films that were shot on film, and we explored that in this particular narrative with these beautiful young black bodies in current day Harlem before Harlem changed forever. It was to capture this moment in time on celluloid because that grain elevates the narrative in a way that it feels like it’s timeless.

LRM Online: I believed you accomplished that. The film looks beautiful, in my opinion. Could you talk about the original song that the character created in the movie?

Rashaad Ernesto Green: In the process, Zora had gone on a Spoken Word Tour with a group called The Strivers Row. An artist by the name of Jennah Bell was with them. This tour was going back five or six years ago. There was a song called John Forbid that Jennah Bell had written and performed.

In the writing process, we would listen to a lot of music for inspiration. Zora brought this song to my attention. Not that we felt it would go into the film, but that it’s about a young woman talking about love. It was beautiful. We listened to it a lot.

During the writing of Premature, Isaiah became a musician, and Ayanna was a poet. At first, we hadn’t written any poetry into the script. We only heard poetry through the song that she supposedly wrote for Isaiah’s music. By taking that song of John Forbid, we deconstructed it in a way that both characters could complete each other through this piece of art. It was a nice way to exemplify their love for one another.

We’ve deconstructed it with the instrumental that Isaiah created. The lyrics ended to be something that Ayanna created. It was not an original song that was written for the film. But, we were very blessed that Jennah Bell permitted us to portray her song in that way.

LRM Online: I understand that synergy between you and Zora. Could you talk about the chemistry between Zora and Joshua [Boone]?

Rashaad Ernesto Green: It was palpable ever since the first reading they had together. They’re both beautiful performers and able to feed off of each other. Zora had a handle on the material since she had co-authorship in it. With Josh, he had a knack for it.

As soon as he stepped into the role, he understood where Isaiah was in his life. He had the right combination of charm and intellect and somebody who Ayanna would be attracted to. We barely had any rehearsal time whatsoever, and there’s a lot of intimacy in the film. Most of that intimacy was captured on day two of shooting because we had the location.

So they had to warm up to each other quickly. We had a day set aside or rehearsal. It was the day before we started shooting in September. That morning of I realized that the Caribbean Day Parade was in Brooklyn. It might be a decent opportunity to add some production value to the film if our lead characters go through this parade. Since we were shooting on film, it was hard to get everything together.

We asked Josh, and Zora can make it out there. We drove them out. We had the delivered to them. They got changed. We met up with the camera van out in Brooklyn. They had to load the film and caught the very tail end of the parade.

Josh and Zora were so game. I just told them, “Okay, go into the parade. Go out there and be in love.” They had to, danced, kissed, and acted like they were falling in love. This moment was their first interaction with each other. We captured it on film as they were walking and dancing at this Caribbean Day Parade. They fell right into it. Both were competent professionals from the very start.

LRM Online: I do love their chemistry between the two. I think that’s what made the movie. Let me start wrapping things up. Are you returning to television, or do you want to keep making feature films?

Rashaad Ernesto Green: I’m not afraid to direct more television. But my passion is making features. That’s what I’ve chosen with my career. When that door opened initially with Gun Hill Road, I didn’t necessarily know at the time that it would be such a hiatus before my second feature. No one told me that television doesn’t inevitably lead to getting more feature work.

At the time, I thought work begets work–that I should be working. Then you into that cycle and specific grind in that routine. I became fearful of saying no to television episodes because I didn’t know if saying no would prevent me from working in television again. Somebody might get offended and not ask me to direct their show again.

After six years, I became financially solvent and reached a point that I was itching to do another feature. I had to stop directing television to write the feature that I wanted to make. I’m not afraid to do that very thing again.

Currently, I’m writing two features. In fact, I’m attached to two features as we speak. That’s not to say that I do not want to direct television again. Right now, my focus is on features.

LRM Online: Before I let you go, your ending was very open to interpretation. Could you talk about why you wanted to go with that ending? I think that was a perfect ending.

Rashaad Ernesto Green: Thank you so much. I did it in my first feature as well. I’m attracted to that particular style of ending things. I don’t necessarily want to wrap everything in a bow for the audience. Sometimes I want the audience to have a choice and feel they are active participants at the end of a film. Everything isn’t handed to them. They have to work a little bit for it.

I’m sure the audience is torn once they get to the end. They’ll be seeded within a perspective, and they’re relating to the character. What is it that they want to transpire? What do they hope Ayanna chooses?

Life isn’t so clean. Love and relationships aren’t so clean. They don’t always come wrapped in a bow. We presented some closure that he does show up and that love is worth it. But it’s not to give you everything. Who’s to say what’s going to happen in the future?

If I can leave the audience, feeling that love, whether it works out or not, is worth it. They both have grown from the experience. Then I’ve done my job.

LRM Online: I think you do. Thank you very much for speaking with me. I do want to congratulate you for the Independent Spirit Award for as someone to watch, which I do think you are. Thank you.

Rashaad Ernesto Green: Thank you, man. I appreciate that.

Premature is now playing in select cities in New York and Los Angeles. It is also available on VOD.

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Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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