A Thousand and One – Family values

“What do two crooks know about raising a family?”

A Thousand and One, written and directed by A. V. Rockwell, was honored with the Grand Jury Prize for US Drama at Sundance this year. It watches the development of a mother-son relationship through the years—alongside the evolution of New York City. Along the way, it asks us to consider what it means to love and why love happens.

We first meet Inez (Teyana Taylor) in a brief prologue in which we see her during her incarceration on Riker’s Island. We then move up a year to 1994 after her release. As she tries to reestablish her life, she sees six year old Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney and Josiah Cross at different ages) on his way to school. Terry has been put into the foster care program. She asks if he wants to come live with her again. He agrees, and they head to a new part of town and get new identities. As far as the law is concerned, Inez has kidnapped the boy, but she is determined to raise the boy and to give him a better chance in life than she has had.

The film comes in three sections that allows us to see not only the way their life changes, but the way the city is changing around them—especially the way young black men are treated. Terry is in a vulnerable situation. During the “stop and frisk” period, he regularly had to deal with police harassment. He does well in school, but they must still try to stay under the radar if they are to avoid detection and Terry going back into the foster system and Inez going back to jail.

(L to R) Teyana Taylor stars as “Inez de la Paz” and Aaron Kingsley Adetola stars as six year old “Terry” in writer/director A.V. Rockwell’s A THOUSAND AND ONE, released by Focus Features. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

Pairing the story of Inez and Terry with the changes in the city serves as a reminder that relationships do not take place in a vacuum. The people and institutions around them have important effects on the love that develops between them.

Their family goes through changes that deal with both Terry growing and with Inez finding a life, albeit one that has trials. Not long before Terry is to finish high school, the reckoning we know is bound to happen occurs. When that happens the story takes a twist that makes us look back at all the years they have been together and consider what the love between them has been built on. It may give us a new perspective on what it means to be a mother.

Watching the film, we see the deep love that Inez and Terry have for each other. Inez, however, is a hard character to like. She is often angry and demanding. The fact that she is difficult to like makes for a bit of a surprise for viewers when the twist comes at the end because we discover our heart breaking for her.

A Thousand and One is available in theaters on March 31st, 2023.

Photos courtesy of Focus Features.

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