MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 31, 2023: A THOUSAND AND ONE
Teyana Taylor is fiercely compelling as Inez, a mother with a complicated history who will do anything for her son, Terry, in writer/director A.V. Rockwell’s powerful drama A Thousand and One. That includes pulling him out of the foster system without permission (in other words, kidnapping him) and giving him a new name to protect him and their life together. As the film follows Inez and Terry over more than a decade, it captures the highs and lows of their relationship and the bond that connects them.
In the first scenes of A Thousand and One, Inez is freshly out of prison, where she was incarcerated for an unspecified minor infraction. She’s skilled at styling hair and dreams of setting up her own business — and it’s clear that she has the kind of ambition necessary to make that happen. But when she visits her 6-year-old son, Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola), in his foster placement, her yearning to be with him eclipses all else, and she decides to take action.
Inez isn’t entirely sure what it means to be a mother to Terry, and in some ways she’s as childish as he is. But her love for and loyalty to him never waver. Over the years, Inez and Terry (played at age 13 by Aven Courtney and at age 17 by Josiah Cross) experience both joy and tragedy, and their family grows to include Inez’ longtime love, Lucky (William Catlett). Inez pushes Terry to achieve academically, and the two definitely don’t always see eye to eye. But it’s always them against the world — until it isn’t.
To say anything more about the plot would be a spoiler — and, as interesting as the story’s twists are, they’re ultimately not the reason that A Thousand and One is a stand-out. What makes this film special is Rockwell’s searingly honest, realistic script, which raises important questions about the way the system treats folks like Inez and Terry, and the exceptional performances by Taylor and the young men who play her son. The emotional heft they bring to their scenes together will linger with you long after the credits roll. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Pam Grady: Writer-director A.J. Rockwell left the Sundance Film Festival with the dramatic Grand Jury prize in hand for A Thousand and One and it’s no wonder. This is a stunning debut. Three young actors play Terry over the period of eleven years, beginning in 1994 when he is six. That’s when Inez (Teyana Taylor), freshly released from a stint at Riker’s Island, New York’s jail for women, plucks him from foster care, changes his name, and melts into Harlem’s packed neighborhood. Over the years, Terry develops into a gifted if diffident student. He gains a father figure in Lucky (William Catlett) but even though he and Inez marry, the relationship is never stable as Lucky dips in and out of mother and son’s lives. Rockwell portrays the family’s lives against the backdrop of an ever-gentrifying neighborhood with 13-year-old Terry the frequent subject of police harassment during the stop-and-frisk era of Rudy Giuliani’s mayoralty and the family’s apartment the victim of a new rapacious landlord breaking things on his way to flipping the property. At the center of everything is Inez, big-hearted but volatile and ultimately her own worst enemy. Taylor is nothing short of brilliant in a soul-baring performance that captures every emotional nuance of a loving and complex woman.
Sherin Nicole Choice and effort. Like rainfall—drop by drop— A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One floods into every space on the emotional spectrum. At times it is thunderous, as each attempt and failure made by Inez (Teyana Taylor), fuels a renewed storm inside her. At other times it overflows with decisions that Terry, her son, (played by Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, Josiah Cross at different ages) is pummeled by but hardly gets to make. Choices and effort are the catalysts for every turn of fortune in A Thousand and One, but those themes are especially poignant when its characters decide to let love in or they attempt to build a family where none existed. Shot with the intensity of being there, inside each scene, A Thousand and One is a velvet barbwire kind of film. One that leaves a mark but not a wound because its characters choose to remain hopeful. No matter how life spins them around, they dust themselves off and try again. And again. And we’d watch them every time.
Jamie Broadnax A Thousand and One is a film that offers viewers the opportunity to see a provocative performance by Teyana Taylor. Taylor, who is most notably known for her work as a singer, shows off her acting chops in this dramatic feature about a single mother and the relationship she forms with her son. The beautifully crafted story of A Thousand and One, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Fim Festival, has women at the helm of this production. Including director A.V. Rockwell and Emmy-award winning producer Lena Waithe. The story comes with a compelling twist and as the plot between mother and child becomes more complicated, Taylor is further challenged in her portrayal as a woman who has run out of options. My only hope is that this film and Taylor’s performance is a conversation that continues throughout awards season.
Nikki Fowler: A Thousand and One is a mesmerizing film with exquisite storytelling that seizes ’90s Harlem in immaculate detail. The writing, direction, and production are outstanding, along with the editing, color, cinematography, and score. A Thousand and One is a deep and soulful love letter to Black women in all the intricate details and struggles that seem like a flame pivoting out of control, especially with the predatory political climate of stop and frisk at the time. and how one continues to find the courage and a path through the chaos. The film grasps that movement and dance in life that sometimes appears wounded, flatlined, and undeserving in one’s own bias and shows the elaborate layers of love, empathy, compassion, survival, and excellence. Teyana Taylor gives a phenomenal performance, and I expected nothing less; she is a force to be reckoned with. In addition, cast performances from Josiah Cross and William Catlett are equally award-worthy.
Leslie Combemale Here we are again with one of these quietly devastating films from a Black female writer/director that centers Blackness featuring exceptional performances that will likely get overlooked, even if it did snag the Grand Jury Prize in the US Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Well, not if those of us critics championing it can help it. Thank goddess for AWFJ and the organizations desire to amplify small, gorgeous movies like this one. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin A Thousand and One, a compelling drama about a mother’s uncompromising love for her son. Teyana Taylor stars as Inez de la Paz who, newly released from incarceration on Riker’s Island for an unspecified minor infraction, locates her six year old son who’s been placed in foster care, kidnaps him and goes on the run with him, determined to provide him with a safe and love-filled home, and a good life. Read full review.
Sandie Angulo Chen: A Thousand and One is an emotional drama about Inez (Tewana Taylor), a young woman who, after an 18-month-stint in prison, kidnaps her six-year-old son from the New York City foster system in 1994. She takes him, moves from Brooklyn to Harlem and changes his name from Terry to Darryl with fake documents. Director A.V. Rockwell captures the nuanced family dynamics as Inez and a growing Terry (we meet him at six and later see him at 13 and about-to-turn 18 thanks to three wonderful young actors) try to live as a family while keeping this fundamental lie a secret. William Catlett co-stars as Inez’ partner Lucky, who isn’t sure Terry is his but treats the boy well enough when he’s around. Woven throughout the movie are headlines and news footage detailing the many ways NYC mayors like Rudy Giuliani encouraged racial strife and disenfranchisement. The film explores issues of identity, family, and inequality. But at its heart, it’s the story a woman who wants to right by her son.
Loren King Motherhood and generational trauma are the complex, emotional layers grounding A Thousand and One, writer-director A.V. Rockwell’s gritty 1990s New York-set drama. The film is anchored by the unforgettable powerhouse performance from Teyana Taylor as Inez, a young woman whose swagger and defiant scowl mask a lifetime of neglect and pain. Rockwell and Taylor deliver authenticity in setting and characters mired in a cycle of poverty and marginalization from the film’s first scene when Inez is released from Riker’s Island and returns to the Harlem streets without a place to live. Read full review.
Liz Whittemore 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. Read full review.
Cate Marquis Recently released from incarceration, Inez (Teyana Taylor) kidnaps her son Terry from the hospital rather than let him stay in the foster care system that put him there. Determined not to return to the homeless shelter, Inez fights to find a better life for Terry, a good kid, who turns out to do well in school. Teyana Taylor gives a striking performance as a fiery young Black woman fiercely determined to raise her son despite the obstacles against her, in A.V. Rockwell’s directorial debut drama A Thousand and One. Three actors play Terry as he grows, and their us-against-the-world drama illustrates the way the city seems to stacks things against them, in this involving drama with unexpected turns.
Title: A Thousand and One
Director: A. V. Rockwell
Principal Cast: Teyana Taylor, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, Josiah Cross, William Catlett
Release Date: March 31, 2023
Running Time: 117 minutes
Screenwriter: A. V. Rockwell
Distribution Company: Focus Features
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Nikki Fowler, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore
Other Movies Opening This Week
Edited by Jennifer Merin