Damaged people don’t know how to love each other. This is a line from the film that rocked me to me core when I heard it and haunts me in this moment. Every single Black mother in 1990’s Harlem can relate to this statement boldly stated by Inez as they are acutely aware this position is riddled with its own set of challenges. Yet, it is compounded when trying to rebound from being incarcerated, your only child can be challenging on any given day and the father is out of the picture. Struggling, but unapologetically living on her own terms, Inez (Teyana Taylor) is moving from shelter to shelter and her 6-year-old son Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola’s later played by Josiah Cross) is in foster care. Once out on parole and unable to leave him again, Inez kidnaps Terry in an attempt to build their life together. Why does she need to kidnap him? Why not just go through the system and get him legally? Because, the system is not set up for for women like Inez to succeed. Not to mention the fact she has secrets that should they surface could change and shift everything as she know it.
In her stunning writing and directing debut feature, A.V. Rockwell tells a deeply American story of a mother and son living for each other in a gentrified New York often uninterested in the reality of their lives. Rockwell grittily taps into the 90’s New York landscape, which made me nostalgic having living in Harlem for quite some time. I remember well, boys on the block walking me home or helping with groceries and laundry I had to drag up three flights of my brownstone. Those were the days.
Even though Rockwell is totally setting the scene with her directing and cinematography, it is the career-defining performance from Teyana Taylor that will have tongues wagging. As a mother fiercely committed to making a future for her child, Taylor crafts Inez as a complicated woman, who never received love she thought she deserved. Her raw and layered performance will having you laughing, shocked and moved to tears simultaneously. The only person who loved her unconditionally was Terry and although she exudes a hardened shell, you know deep down that all she wants is to be loved and understood. William Catlett as Lucky and Cross as Terry exude very different sides of black masculinity with heart. Both actors hold up Taylor in each and every pivotal moment and vice versa.
A Thousand And One is an elegant ode to the terribly beautiful power of family as an anchor in an ever-changing world, making us into who we are in ways we can only haltingly understand. Love is complicated on every level, but it is an emotion that will always lead you to do the right thing. We have a thousand and one chances in life, but it only take one to make a difference.