Singer Teyana Taylor gives an honest and heartfelt lead performance in A Thousand and One from Focus Features. The writer & director of the film, A.V. Rockwell, makes her debut with the film that follows unapologetic and free-spirited Inez (Teyana Taylor), who kidnaps six-year-old Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola) from the foster care system. Holding onto their secret and each other, mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability in a rapidly changing New York City.
Rockwell introduces us to Inez as she’s leaving Rikers Island in 1994. Immediately Inez wants to reconnect with Terry, but the lad is reluctant to talk to her, still distrustful after she abandoned him on the street. Then, in a strange twist of fate, Terry ends up in the hospital after an accident in his foster home.
Seeing a chance to connect, Inez begins visiting him, slowly earning his trust with a Power Ranger toy. She informs her son that she will soon move to a new shelter. However, to maintain communication, she gives her son a beeper number and promises to become a better mother.
After a heartbreaking conversation, Inez decides to take Terry to Harlem. Knowing what’s at risk, Inez employs every trick in the book, from fake social security numbers to name changes, to ensure she stays in her son’s life. Eventually, the two begin to craft a home together, and things take another turn when Lucky (William Catlett) enters their lives.
I’ve seen Taylor’s film work in previous films, but here she shows commendable range and respect for the craft. There is just something authentic in the dialogue she delivers with Aaron Kingsley Adetola. As a fan of William Catlett, it’s always great to see him on screen. While his character had made mistakes in the past, he still provides a heartfelt portrait of black masculinity and the struggles he deals with. In the film’s second act, Aven Courtney steps into the role of Terry, now a preteen.
From a directorial standpoint, A.V. Rockwell successfully highlights the effects Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg had on black and brown boys in early 2000’s New York. The third act of the film has Josiah Cross as Terry on the verge of adulthood, who now has to deal with the consequences of his mother’s actions hoping to give him a better life.
A Thousand and One captures the complexity of the foster care system and how it affects those within. While I grew up with a single mom, I didn’t experience some of the severity of what Inez goes through with her son.
A Thousand and One is a unique perspective on the more significant issues of homelessness, poverty, and racial injustice. It also shines a light on the power of love and the resilience of the human spirit. Anchored by a breakthrough performance from Teyana Taylor and impressive direction from A.V. Rockwell, the film is worth your time.
Final Grade: A –
A Thousand and One arrives in theaters on March 31.
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