Director: A.V. Rockwell
Writer: A.V. Rockwell
Stars: Teyana Taylor, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Josiah Cross
Synopsis: After unapologetic and fiercely loyal Inez kidnaps her son Terry from the foster care system, mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability, in a rapidly changing New York City.
You’ll be blown away by A.V. Rockwell’s stirring and deeply felt character study A Thousand and One. It’s coupled with a hair-raising turn by the brilliant Teyana Taylor in a film with a remarkable sense of time, place, and the community as a whole. A Thousand and One is a complex film that takes a sharp look at the intersectionality of its characters. An incisive look at an era of social service systems’ cold and laissez-faire approach to management. However, perhaps most importantly, it focuses on what it means to be part of a family, for better or worse.
The story follows Inez (Taylor), a hustler for life who just walked out of prison and looked for any advantage she could to get ahead on these unrelenting Harlem streets. Inez takes her six-year-old son (Aaron Kingsley Adetola) out of the foster care system without permission. She sees her son, Terry, struggling with his peers and being unsupervised by the staff. This is personal for Inez, who grew up in the same unforgiving New York City child welfare system. She knows all too well the pain of growing up without hope.
While watching the film, it’s clear that Inez is in love with Lucky (Charm City’s Will Catlett, outstanding here). She tells Lucky that he’s the father. Initially, he has trouble accepting it. However, Lucky becomes an undeniable force in his life. As he grows into a man, Terry (now played by Josiah Cross) adores him and gives him the tools as a man to succeed in the world. Inez followed her plan, creating a home, establishing stability, and giving Terry a support system. She is so successful he even begins to earn scholarships to go to college. Now, he has a brighter future than Inez could have ever dreamed.
You may think A Thousand and One is taking a similar route to This Boy’s Life, but the result is much more than what we initially assumed from the first act’s brilliant pensive, and deep-affecting framework. One that views its makeshift family through a lens of how they adapt to an ever-changing community and all-time highs in violent crime and murders was 90s New York City. Not to mention the sky-high unemployment rate that rose two full percent in three years. Then, without warning, writer and director A.V. Rockwell’s delicate script has the ability and raw power to set up the viewer with a knockout punch that is hard to shake long after the film is over.
None of this would be possible without the breakout performance of Teyana Taylor, who is a revelation here. The role of Inez is a fascinating character study of survival. Her blistering and poignant portrayal is audacious, like nothing you’ve ever seen in a film like A Thousand and One. Her performance is brimming with empathy yet heartbreaking temerity. Taylor is simply brilliant here in a role that mirrors the plight of Terry. As an adult, she struggles with her identity in a world that continues pushing against her, even with her honorable intentions. Her memorable performance will likely propel her into an exciting career in the future.
A film like A Thousand and One will be forgotten when awards chatter comes around. However, let’s hope Rockwell’s brilliant script and Taylor’s searing turn stay in Oscar voters’ minds when the time comes. Few studios and filmmakers take the time and have the sensitivity to shine a light on at-risk populations that fall between the cracks. The result is a thematically rich and vivid experience brought to life with staggering purpose.