Jeremy O. Harris, celebrated screenwriter and playwright, wept when he, as a member of the Sundance 2023 Dramatic jury, gave the festival’s grand jury prize onstage to “A Thousand and One” last month. A.V. Rockwell’s tough and beautiful Harlem-set drama charts the coming-of-age of a boy under the care of the mother who kidnapped him from foster care, played by Teyana Taylor. The R&B super-artist and actress gives a commanding, breakaway performance in a movie whose awards-earning run shouldn’t expect to end with Sundance. Watch the official trailer for the film below.
“There’s more to life than fucked-up beginnings,” Inez (Taylor), a woman living life in New York on her own terms, tells her young son Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola) as the movie begins. She has taken him out of the foster care system, which has kept them separated after her stint in Rikers Island beginning in 1993, and now hopes to give him a better life. But at the end of the movie, after a decades-spanning, bittersweet bond forms and fizzles between them and shattering revelations are had, she tells the older Terry (Josiah Cross), “I fucked up. Life goes on. So what?”
“A Thousand and One” charts a rapidly changing New York across 20 years, from the hands of Giuliani to Bloomberg, while the city’s Black residents are left to fend for themselves against the winds of gentrification.
“I feel like as a New Yorker I’m honored to be making a film about the city the way other filmmakers I admire did, like Spike Lee, Scorsese, Woody Allen,” Rockwell told IndieWire. “They’re just really known as New York people making New York films, but I was making a heartbreak letter more than a love letter. I didn’t really feel like I had a lot of examples of that to criticize in my own way. New York broke my heart.”
The first look at the film doesn’t give away its secrets: “A Thousand and One” culminates in a gutting conclusion that turns the entire movie on its head, a sobering reminder of how fucked-up beginnings can hopefully bring about better endings. Taylor’s evident kinship with Rockwell (and Taylor’s own story as a New Yorker) signals significant directing and acting talents worth watching out for the rest of this year, and afterward.
Focus Features opens “A Thousand and One” nationwide on March 31.
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