The Sundance Film Festival award-winning film A Thousand and One placed seventh at the U.S. Box Office after its opening weekend. Already critically acclaimed by an expanding audience, Teyana Taylor delivers a stunning performance as Inez, a young mother who grew up in foster care and is now raising a child in Harlem through gentrification of NYC and political targeting from the 90s through 00s. Taylor, a Harlem native herself, transforms into Inez, recently released from Rikers Island, homeless, and determined to rescue six year-old Terry from the foster care system. As a family, Inez and Terry encounter harrowing challenges in their quest to build a more traditional life with greater possibilities. From sly landlords attempting to displace them as well as encountering the infamous stop-and-frisk sweeps, the story develops as a family versus the city epic with powerful and heartbreaking imagery. At one point, we even hear audio from the former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s inauguration speech in 2002, quoting the great author Toni Morrison referring to New York City as ‘the last true city.’
A Thousand and One is also the debut of writer and director A.V. Rockwell, who grew up in Jamaica, Queens. Rockwell said in an interview for Essence, “I knew that I wanted to tell a story that was going to be about my coming of age in New York City, and kind of farewell to what that era was. But I think that what really compelled me to tell this story so urgently was seeing firsthand the impact of gentrification on the Black communities of New York City.”
As a viewer, I must interject that I watched the film near where I live at AMC’s Magic Johnson Harlem theater, and it undoubtedly enhanced the history of everyday resistance conveyed through the film. The visuals were not only emotionally rendering, but in ways, a history lesson about families, communities, a neighborhood, and a city. “I think the movie has tons of surprises in it, and it takes people on a full emotional ride, and there is so much to gain from seeing the movie,” said Rockwell in the Essence interview.
Nonetheless, the film also shined through many beautifully touching moments, particularly between Inez and Terry as well as the character Lucky played by Will Catlett. The portrayal of complex family dynamics and looming presence of child services created a consistent tension, where viewers are anxious about where they will be taken next. There were also moments of humor in dramatic moments, like when Inez’s best friend’s mother shouts, “You’re turning my home into 125th Street!”
An underrated aspect of the film is its fashion choices that outfit the characters. Viewers are taken through a myriad of looks and brands from years past that potentially might be coming back into style. You get a strong sense of community and New York City and perhaps a bit of nostalgia.
As a MFA student in creative writing and translation, I particularly recommend the movie for students like myself who are parents, and who may utilize The Child Development Center located at 245 Kiely Hall. The center provides an educational after-school program in addition to childcare for both faculty and students. I should mention, however, that the movie can be a heartbreaker and to keep your tissues ready.