Title: A Thousand and One
Release Date: 3/31/2023
Where to watch: In theaters
Directed by: A.V. Rockwell
Produced by: Lena Waithe
Starring: Teyana Taylor as Inez da la Paz, Aaron Kingsley Adetola as Terry (6 years old), Aven Courtney as Terry (13 years old), Josiah Cross as Terry (17 years old), and William Catlett as Lucky
Synopsis: A fiercely unapologetic and 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.
Worth noting: A Thousand and One is a Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize winner.
A.V. Rockwell created colorful and flawed characters who I found myself rooting for as they lived their truths while trying to achieve an ideal life the best way they knew how in an unforgiving city, NYC. Storytelling like this only makes me desire more stories about well-rounded Black characters who flourish despite being a product of their harsh environments.
Outside of the writing and acting in this film, I appreciated how Rockwell incorporated scenic shots of New York, giving the audience an idea of what the characters were truly up against. The tall buildings, busy neighborhoods, and various personalities inhabit the area highlighted in this film.
Teyana Taylor and the Cast
The last time I saw Taylor in a film was Coming 2 America where her role was limited albeit entertaining. Before then, I saw her in Madea’s Big Happy Family where she played the annoying ex-girlfriend of Bow Wow’s character, Byron. During the screening of A Thousand and One, I thought to myself, “wait, is this the same Teyana Taylor?”. I was so impressed with her performance that I couldn’t help but focus solely on her character, Inez, and the barrage of obstacles thrown her way.
Although well-intentioned, Inez’s approach is sometimes questionable and at times illegal. It was interesting to watch Taylor bring this character to life and make her compelling but also believable. When Inez provides life lessons to her son Terry, you can feel her love for him and her desire to give him a better life than she had growing up. It’s certainly not smooth sailing for this troubled mom; at times, you see the character get in the way of her own success. Taylor recently shared with Elle magazine “She (Inez) is so strong, and sometimes she gets in her own way. So you’ll see her almost go there and then hold it in. So I had to dial it back. There were a lot of different techniques that I taught myself to get into this space. It felt like I was on my own pursuit of happiness”.
Taylor’s chemistry on screen with the young actors (Aaron Kingsley Adetola as 6-year-old Terry, Aven Courtney as 13-year-old Terry, and Josiah Cross as 17-year-old Terry) genuinely resembles a mother-and-son relationship. In my opinion, Cross had the best Terry performance because the film’s final act called for a more emotional display, given the big reveal at the end (don’t worry, no spoilers here). It was not only the performance for me, the writing was incredibly impactful.
Actor William Catlett plays Lucky, Inez’s boyfriend. He serves as a father figure to her son and provides guidance on how to manage daily as a young Black man in a world that is bound to stereotype him. Although his methods and delivery are not considered ideal, the messages are clear and understood by young Terry. I loved how the Lucky character tried his best to change his life after incarceration. Catlett, as Lucky, knocked this portrayal out of the park and is honestly one of the most underrated actors I’ve seen in a while. I hope to see his career continue to flourish.
Taylor deserves genuine applause for her role in this film. I think it should serve as proof that she CAN pull off the role of Dionne Warwick in an upcoming project. The verdict on Black Twitter is that she surely can! Even the icon herself has mentioned she would love the artist to portray her. The direction and writing of Rockwell gives film lovers a taste of the future of storytelling that Black people and POC can be proud of. A Thousand and One shows the complicated dynamics of a mother’s love which is 100% worth watching.