‘A Thousand and One’ – Review

A.V. Rockwell writes a love letter to mothers and the marginalized communities of New York through a painful character study following a mother-son relationship living in an ever-changing city.

In A Thousand and One, Inez De La Paz (Teyana Taylor) grew up on the street of Harlem after years of shuffling in and out of the foster care system. Inez is released from her sentence at Rikers and heads back to a Brooklyn homeless shelter, intending to stay out of trouble. Back in Brooklyn, Inez can reunite with her 6-year-old son Terry who she whisks away from his foster home to another New York neighborhood. For the next fifteen years, the two will create a new life together in a safe space to call home until Inez’s past threatens to pull them apart once more.

As a struggling woman of color in a cruel city, Teyana Taylor portrays Inez as a determined woman with the desire to rebuild not only her life but her son Terry’s. Rockwell elevates a story of a tragedy that could easily be turned into trauma-dumping into a story of survival with a dignified woman at the center. Inez represents an invisible woman in society but she lets her voice shine through.  Taylor possesses tenderness hiding in her aggressive projection toward the world. Her maternal affection is at the stem of her personality and ranges from terrifying to beautiful because she knows it is the key to keeping her world together. It is the only thing she has in this world. Taylor plays Inez as a woman who is permanently broken no matter how she improved her life; she will never lose the internal pain of her economic standing, and that is something she passes down to Terry.  

Rockwell’s depiction of an ever-changing New York makes this more than a family drama. Rockwell focuses on little details such as Inez changing out her gold hoops, the onslaught of white neighbors flocking to the neighborhood, and local stores switching to corporations to show her audience the movement of time. The velvety camera work of Eric Yue adds texture to this narrative making it feel authentic with a warm glow that emulates nostalgia. Based on how he captures Harlem it is evident he knows this place and people.

Contrasting the idea of home with the impact of Giuliani and Bloomberg’s years as mayor on marginalized communities brings Inez and Terry’s world to life. The daunting voices of Giuliani and Bloomberg echo through the city streets of Inez and Terry’s home. It feels like a nightmare haunting them as the years go by and they continue to thrive but the political leaders continue to push them down and punish them for their struggles instead of addressing the root causes. Gentrification serves as a marker for Terry’s adolescence as he watches the world change around him and has to adapt and understand why. Even as the story falls into classic Hollywood beats that would transform it into a happy story, Rockwell maintains a sense of realism for her world. 

A Thousand and One is a soul-shattering film about the daily struggles of marginalized communities in a system that is designed to keep them down. Rockwell finds the complex beauty of these layered characters that are looking for redemption. 

Grade: A

Oscars Prospects:
Likely: None
Should be Considered: Lead Actress (Teyana Taylor), Best Director, Best Cinematography

Where to Watch: In Theaters

Jillian Chilingerian
she/her @JillianChili
Lives in LA
Favorite Director: David Fincher
Sign: Leo

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