A.V. Rockwell’s feature film directorial debut A Thousand and One hits you like a ton of bricks. A story of survival, strength, and motherhood, the film features Teyana Taylor in a breakout performance that captures the raw and emotional bond between a mother and child. Between Taylor’s front and center role and Rockwell’s grounded storytelling, it easy to see that big things are ahead for both of them. A Thousand and One will cut you deep with its sharp themes and powerful social commentary. Bring the tissues because you’re going to need them.
After a recent stint in jail, Inez (Teyana Taylor) returns to her home in Harlem, New York to pick up the pieces of her life. That starts with her young son Terry who was placed in foster care after her arrest. Inez vows to Terry that this time will be different, and takes him with her as she works to provide a new home for the two of them. While the state views this as kidnapping since Terry has a foster home now, Inez sees it differently and will do whatever it takes to make sure they will never be separated again.
A Thousand and One it set in the 90’s and takes place over multiple years as it follows Inez as she lives, works, and struggles in providing for Terry and comes face to face with a society that continues to push her down at every opportunity. The world is changing, and for a black woman like Inez that change comes at the cost of basic necessities. She’s a talented and driven woman, providing hair styling for anyone she knows out of her small apartment she rents from an older woman who gave her a chance. One of the common themes that runs throughout the film is how the older generation wants to provide a better life for the younger generation. The older woman tells Inez how much better things are for her than when she was a young girl. It’s the same for Inez, who going though all these hardships so that she can provide Terry with a better life. And yet despite everyone’s good intentions, it still feels hollow.
There is so much sadness in the fact that no matter how hard Inez works there will always be another struggle. Even though the film takes place in the 90’s and 2000s, the same exact film could easily be made in today’s society. The system hasn’t changed. People of color are still struggling to find work and affordable places to live just to survive, let alone thrive. At one point in the film when Inez has made a little progress we see new landlords buy up the building she lives in and try and force her out. Gentrification was an issue then, and it’s an issue now. Even in the context of the film alone, where we see a six-year-old Terry grow up to an almost 18-year-old, it’s the same cycle of struggles. Honestly, it’s a testament to Inez’s strength and fortitude that she continues to do her best even though she is aware of just how much the cards are stacked against her.
Teyana Taylor is phenomenal in the role. She’s no stranger to Hollywood, having already a successful music career and appearing in various film and TV roles, but A Thousand and One puts her talents on full display. Inez is the heart and soul of the film, and Taylor brings a strength, confidence, and rawness to the role that is unparalleled. There’s a scene where she eats a cup of ramen noodles in bed in front of the TV and you can see all the grief and pain right behind her eyes as she struggles to keep it together. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking scene among many, and Taylor nails every single one of them. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing plenty more of her in the future, and I cannot wait.
As depressing A Thousand and One may be, it does offer hope. The love between a mother and her son is real, and Inez and Terry’s relationship is beautifully complicated. The film takes some interesting turns in the third act that come a little bit out of left field, but it still manages to pull it together and deliver an emotional rollercoaster of a ride that resonates with everyone. We all want love, and there are plenty of things to love about this film.
story of survival, strength, and motherhood, the film features Teyana Taylor in a breakout performance that captures the raw and emotional bond between a mother and child. Between Taylor’s front and center role and Rockwell’s grounded storytelling, it easy to see that big things are ahead for both of them.