Teyana Taylor and Aaron Kingsley appear in a still from A Thousand and One by A.V. Rockwell, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Focus Features

Black Americans are no strangers when it comes to systemic problems. Whether it is the racial bias within our public educational institutions, the divide within the criminal justice system, or troubles that plague the foster care of children, racial equality still has a long way to go. Writer/director A.V. Rockwell tells a fictional but all-too-real story about the struggles of a single Black mother and her son as they navigate the treacherous terrain of criminal probation and the foster children program during the 1990s. A Thousand and One’s intimate portrait calls for much-needed reform and gives faces, hearts, and personalities to the real people suffering.

Teyana Taylor stars Inez de la Paz, a driven young woman determined to rebuild the life she once lost after serving a prison sentence. Upon her return to her home in New York’s Harlem, she seeks out her estranged son Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola), who is now six years old and in foster care. After recognizing the abusive environment of Terry’s living situation, Inez removes her son from home and takes it upon herself to raise him, despite the illegal nature of this plan. The movie follows Inez and Terry over the next eleven years and all the struggles and problems they endure during the remainder of Terry’s childhood.

With A Thousand and One, A.V. Rockwell impresses with a hauntingly powerful story that realistically captures the genuine struggles of a Black mother and her son. The writing, with its excellent character development and compelling moments, is beautifully and sometimes sorrowfully fleshed out by both the superb direction and performances of the cast. I must also praise the gritty cinematography by Erick K. Yue, which adds to the film’s immersive effect on its audience, and the infectious score by Gary Gunn.

I had never previously heard of actor Teyana Taylor, but I can guarantee that, from now on, she will be on my radar. As Inez, Taylor gives an awards-worthy, heartbreaking, and thoroughly moving turn. I was also impressed with the performances of Aven Courtney, who portrays Terry at 13, and Josiah Cross, who plays Terry at 17. These two talented young men put much heart and vulnerability into their turns.

A Thousand and One opens in theaters and deserves lots of love, praise, attention, and box office returns. It is an independent feature that will be easily overlooked at the cineplexes but is better than the usual theatrical fare. I know it is a bit early to make any awards predictions, but I sincerely hope this movie will be remembered when it comes to accolades at the end of the year.

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