A Thousand and One, a new family drama set in Harlem—sure to be canonized among legendary New York cinema—resists such optimism about the ever-gentrifying metropolis. In fact, its writer and director A.V. Rockwell has described her debut feature as a “heartbreak letter” to her hometown, which she witnessed rapidly change as a youth.
“I loved the city so deeply that it felt like part of who I am. I felt like, OK, well, New York must not love me in the same way. I think that awareness of unreciprocated love and that feeling of being erased was a huge motivator for me.”
the 34-year-old Queens native told IndieWire
A Thousand and One depicts a young woman named Inez De La Paz (Teyana Taylor), who illegally takes her son Terry (played at different ages by Aaron Kingsley, Aven Courtney, and Josiah Cross) out of the foster system after she returns from a stint at Rikers Island.
Beneath the film’s political overtones is a gentle and, in Rockwell’s words, “universal” portrait of a mother and a son who share a deep and sometimes uneasy love.
We also watch Inez and Terry embark on individual romantic journeys, exposing a broader story about the complicated dynamics between Black women and men, including issues of misogynoir and colorism.
All of this circles back to an overarching sense of loneliness that the audience experiences through Inez.
A Thousand and One has already received plenty of praise and one pretty big accolade: the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered in January.
Recent winners of the award include the Oscar-winning Minari and 2021’s Best Picture winner CODA. Before Sundance, though, Rockwell was already well-recognized as a filmmaker to watch. She directed 2016 short film for Alicia Keys’ song “The Gospel,” a black-and-white video collage of women of color across New York. Her follow-up was the mesmerizing short film Feathers, about a safe-haven school for Black boys.