Recently released from prison, Inez (Teyana Taylor) kidnaps her six-year-old son from foster care. She and Terry survive in hiding in NYC the best they can. Writer-director A. V. Rockwell takes us on a journey through New York City’s history, weaving in news reports about Mayor Rudy Guliani, law enforcement’s stop-and-frisk announcements, and the gentrification of Harlem. Meticulous era costuming from Melissa Vargas and Ky Johnson’s hair styling on Teyana Taylor gives the film a timeless authenticity. A Thousand and One is a gritty tribute to the mothers and sons who survive in New York City’s challenging landscape.
Teyana Taylor plays Inez as a fully fleshed-out and flawed woman. The fear of losing Terry drives her hustle. Her palpable stress radiates off the screen. As a mother, I know that full-body feeling of exasperation. Taylor embodies all the emotions attached to protecting your child, your personal life, and your sanity.
Aaron Kingsley Adetola plays Terry at age six in 1994. His sweet innocence and chemistry with Taylor are perfect. Aven Courtney is Terry at thirteen. Navigating girls, school, and Inez’s expectations, Courtney takes a beat to express the inner turmoil of a brilliant young man.
Josiah Cross is the eldest version of Terry in the early 2000s, at age seventeen. His interest in music and his friend Simone grows serious. He manages college applications, copes with his stepfather’s cancer diagnosis, and the unknown with the same fiery stillness shown by his younger counterparts. Here, A.V. Rockwell’s script lets Cross address Terry’s abandonment issues and his even more complex past. The role is a star-making turn.
The film’s finale is mind-blowing. Emotionally wrought, undeniably shocking, and beautifully nuanced, A Thousand and One is a story of unconditional love through circumstances that are unimaginable to many.