A Thousand and One is directed by A.V. Rockwell, and it stars Teyana Taylor as a mother and who parents a son during a tumultuous time in New York City.
Like undisputed Best Picture winner Moonlight (2016), A Thousand and One consists of three sections over the course of a young boy’s childhood. The plot is thin, but that is mostly because A Thousand and One is a character study that focuses on the mother-son relationship at the heart of the film. And these are compelling characters portrayed to perfection by the cast. Teyana Taylor especially gives a tour de force performance in this an early contender for the Best Actress prize.
In term of larger themes, A Thousand and One is not strictly an “issue movie,” though the characters are deeply affected by various political and social changes during 90s- and early-aughts-era NYC. The film mentions then-Mayor Giuliani’s “tough-on-crime” policies that transformed Times Square from the seedy and potentially dangerous underbelly of the City, as depicted in Taxi Driver (1976), to the Disney tourist trap that it is today, and the film depicts the results of “stop-and-frisk” and Midtown’s gentrification; in one of the most stark and disturbing sequences of the film, a landlord demonstrates just how damaging gentrification can be. Rather than focusing on these political issues, A Thousand and One stays centered on the characters. It’s somehow about politics without being preachily political.
Additionally, the film stands as a testament to the strength of Black women, particularly Black mothers. Taylor’s Inez is one of those characters who resonates and sparkles off the screen with life and vivacity. Most of the credit goes to Taylor who perfectly embodies the character, but a fair amount of praise should be heaped on writer/director A.V. Rockwell who created such a tenacious spirit.
However, there is an element of the plot that I don’t think works as well as the character interactions. It is given away in published synopses about the movie, but because part of the plot twist caught me off-guard, I avoid mentioning it here. Suffice it to say that I think the film would have been better off without one element of the story that only pops up at the beginning and end.
It is easy to see why A Thousand and One won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance earlier this year. The film is deep and societally poignant at the same time that it is well-acted and personal. CODA (2021) won the same award and went on to take home Best Picture; time will tell if A Thousand and One has the same fate.