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‘A Thousand and One’ Is a One in a Million Film – Review

A.V Rockwell’s touching feature film debut, A Thousand and One, is a touching love story to Harlem, New York, and the Black women from there. With sweeping narratives, a powerful cast, and beautiful filming, A Thousand and One is one in a million. Featuring stellar performances by leading lady Teyana Taylor, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, Josiah Cross, and Will Catlett, this film swells in massive waves as it takes you on a journey of family, identity, love, and loss. A Thousand and One shines on the silver screen as bright as the rapidly gentrifying New York City that is its backdrop.

Teyana Taylor - A Thousand and One
(Courtesy of Focus Features)

A Thousand and One focuses on a young Inez (Taylor) in 1994 in New York City. A fiercely loyal and unapologetic Harlemite whose familiarity with NYC’s foster care system has shaped her into a survivor who has plenty of love to give. That love is directed towards her son, Terry (Adetola), who is sent into foster care after Inez is sent to prison on Rikers Island.

After coming across him on the street, Inez and Terry reconnect. Eventually, after Terry has an accident in his foster home, Inez takes from him foster care. While Terry is unsure about what embarking on this new journey with his mother means, Inez will stop at nothing to give him and her the life they deserve. Her thirst for a new beginning with her son drives her to do what she does best, survive.

In this gripping film, Taylor shines tremendously. In an interview with Indiewire, she expressed how this role was written for her, and she wasn’t lying. Anyone familiar with Taylor will see her primarily as a sultry R&B singer with various roles in comedies. But here, Taylor delivers a performance that dares you not to pay attention.

(Courtesy of Focus Features)

As the film progresses, we see what systemic inequity, gentrification, and life do to Inez. She starts off as a brash and confident woman who, ultimately, maintains her defiant spirit but becomes more tired and stressed as the years roll by. You feel the light slip from her, and Rockwell’s filming demonstrates this well with shots that seemingly make Inez glow within a bright background of ‘90s Harlem but dull her within a more muted NYC as time rolls by.

Paired with the rest of the cast (special shoutout to Josiah Cross), that understood the assignment as well, audiences can expect to be placed onto an emotional roller coaster that moves as quickly as those who strived to sanitize that colorful and cultural NYC of the ’90s and new millennium.

Additionally, Rockwell’s writing understands how to explore the complexities within each character. From the charismatic but flighty Lucky (Catlett), the supportive but conflicted best friend Kim (Terri Abney), and the sensitive yet closed-off Terry, to the caring but no-nonsense Inez.

(Photo by Aaron Ricketts/Courtesy of Focus Features)

The film unfolds across various acts within different time periods, similar to 2016’s Moonlight. The time jumps, however, may feel abrupt in nature, but that’s akin to how the cast in this film feels. They put their head down for a minute, look up, and find that the world they know has changed drastically.

Additionally, the film focuses more on the trials of the mother, as opposed to the son, like in Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning film. Still, Terry and Inez both have their moments of development. One touching scene between Cross’ Terry and Inez is sure to cement a few award nominations.

In all, A Thousand and One is a fabulous debut for both Rockwell, as a filmmaker, and for Taylor as a leading lady. 

Rating: 9/10

A Thousand and One is in theaters now.

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