Teyana Taylor Shines In ‘A Thousand And One’

There are quite a few surprises (and plot twists) in director and writer A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One film, which premiered on Sunday evening at Sundance. The story, which at first may seem like it strings together tired clichés, centers on a young Black woman, Inez (Teyana Taylor), who has recently been released from Rikers prison in the mid-90s. She encounters her 6-year-old son, Terry (played by different actors throughout the film), who is in foster care, and at first appears reluctant to engage with her. But if you’re expecting another sorry tale of a poor, broken, Black family, Rockwell disabuses the viewer of that expectation quickly.

Inez certainly has the markers of a Black woman who has had to overcome dire circumstances, and her encounters with Terry from his early childhood into his teenage years are at times, harsh, maybe even cruel. But there is no doubt from the time the viewer realizes how Terry comes into Inez’s care — by her kidnapping him and taking him to Harlem following an accident after her return from prison — that she loves the boy dearly and is willing to do just about anything to keep him safe and give him opportunities she never had.

One of the surprises of the film is how effortlessly Taylor assumes this role — one of a complicated mother who eventually marries a boyfriend, Lucky (Will Catlett), who was also previously incarcerated and persists in making Lucky, Terry, and her a family — a family in which there are secrets and disappearing acts on Lucky’s part, but a family nonetheless. It’s obvious that Inez’s aspirations are the result of not having a blood family that she can rely upon.

In ‘A Thousand And One,’ Teyana Taylor Shines As A Determined Mother
PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 23: (L-R) William Catlett, Lena Waithe, A.V. Rockwell, and Teyana Taylor visit the IMDb Portrait Studio at Acura Festival Village on Location at Sundance 2023 on January 23, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb)

Inez as Taylor embodies her is is steeped in that New York ’90s working class Black woman hardness that should never be mistaken for inhumanity. She’s a lover and a fighter, but the kind that usually only allows the latter to manifest. The city is also its own character in the show. The political backdrop of Rudy Giuliani’s New York City politics, the stop-and-frisk policy’s impact on Black boys and men, the beginning of the manipulation of gentrification by new landlords, depict a New York that so many of its dwellers don’t always get to see highlighted, at least not in a way that humanizes the New Yorkers that give the city its color and edge.

Terry in his teenage years is shown as the intelligent boy that Inez always wanted him to become amid the details of his life she keeps away from him about his early childhood, which inevitably haunt him and their entire family as he begins to think about college and possibly, life beyond New York. Inez’s past deeds are irreversible, and a revelation of a particularly unexpected secret might leave viewers audibly gasping — as it did in the Sundance theater — but true to the persona in the movie, Inez justifies her act because of her love for Terry and her vision for what he might become.

Ultimately, A Thousand and One demands of its viewers an understanding and empathy not always easily afforded to characters like Inez, and in so doing, Rockwell’s film more than anything else, paints a portrait not only of determined motherhood but one in which love is always a verb, even in questionable moralities.

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