A Thousand And One: Sundance 2023 Review
R&B singer Teyana Taylor stars as single mom, Inez, in A.V. Rockwell’s feature directorial debut. Emmy Award winner Lena Waithe produced, A Thousand and One, which won the coveted Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The usually glamorous soul songstress and director made a jaw dropping cameo in Coming 2 America.
The memorable scene shows beautiful Bopoto Izzi being introduced as a possible suitor for the son of King Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy). Taylor wears minimal makeup and door knocker earrings, showing herself to be noticeably raw and vulnerable in her portrayal of a hard knock life Harlem native. Inez does what she can to turn her life around after being incarcerated.
The film begins in early 90’s New York City during the administration run by Rudy Giuliani. The infamous Donald Trump attorney is never shown, but his strict policing dictates are heard in a sonic landscape of audio sound bites to provide exposition about the gritty era.
Teyana Taylor has a commanding presence on screen from the first moment we see her as twenty-two year-old, Inez, living in a Rikers Island prison cell. The notorious jail is a harsh place to do a sentence. Inez pivots upon release and stays with her best friend while making ends meet braiding hair.
She locates her six-year-old son Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola) who is playing on a street corner. Terry has been in foster care the whole time she was serving her term. “Tell me more about your foster mother, you like her?” Inez asks her son. She begins to re-organize her life. Shortly after returning to Terry’s area, Inez soon discovers that he suffered an injury and he fell out of a window. Inez is determined to break the, foster care to prison cycle. She tracks down her son, who is badly bruised and asks him. “Would it make you feel better if you came to stay with me?”
She removes him from the hospital without permission and brings him to live in their new home. The pair do their best to survive in their cramped apartment number 1001, while the spectre of gentrification looms around the city.
It is not long before Inez’s boyfriend Lucky (Will Catlett) returns from prison. The couple begins dating again and eventually they get married. The husband and wife decide to raise Terry in a loving two parent home that they never had growing up. Lucky is not his biological father. However, he does know the way of the street and provides paternal manhood guidance to his adopted son.
He teaches him life lessons like the importance of walking on the right side of the street for protection. Terry comes of age in the neighborhood. Two different actors perform the role as he matures into a teenager. Aven Courtney is an inquisitive thirteen-year-old who witnesses the ups and downs of the relationship between the married pair.
Lucky has a wandering eye and his extramarital interests around the neighborhood eventually cause tension and loud arguments.
Josiah Cross picks up the role for the third act as Terry. He is now navigating his way through the world and flourishing in his studies. Director A.V. Rockwell examines similar themes of Black boyhood in her short film Feathers that screened at a pre-pandemic Sundance. She has a natural affinity for realistic dialogue and struggles based on a lived experience that resonates with the audience.
There is an unexpected plot twist when Terry uncovers a hidden family secret in the process of seeking mentorship from one of his teachers. Teyana Taylor commands the screen as the breakout and takes us on an emotional journey. We empathize with her struggle and the connection to the obstacles Inez faces on a daily basis. We witness her dealing with the hardships of Black motherhood and raising her son. “I’d go to war for you, you know that?
Against anybody.” Taylor is so passionate and palpable during her delivery making a speech about maternal instinct that we wholeheartedly believe every word. These burdens include a range of problems from leaky ceilings, busted pipes and money woes. being impoverished in one of the most expensive cities in the world trying to make ends meet.
Grade : A
A Thousand and One is now playing in theaters.
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