A Letter From Filmmaker A.V. Rockwell About A Thousand and One

The writer-director gives readers an inside look at her Sundance-winning feature debut

A Thousand and One is a mother and son love story. It follows Inez, a young woman who’s just come out of Rikers and quickly reunites with her son, Terry, who’s in the foster care system. Fearful that she’ll lose touch with him again once he’s moved to a new foster home, she impulsively decides to abduct him and rebuild their life together. However, embarking on this journey means hiding in plain sight in a New York City that’s rapidly changing around them. And so, this becomes an intimate portrait of a family versus a city.

A Thousand and One official trailer 

Inez’s relationship with Terry is a reflection of complicated dynamics between single mothers and their children. We tend to hold our parents to the highest standards. We expect them to be perfect. We don’t understand that our first idols are also still human beings trying to figure out and navigate life while creating a better one for us. Inez represents Black matriarchs specifically, who I’ve seen not take care of themselves, generation after generation, devastation after devastation, because they’re too busy taking care of everybody else.

I was also inspired to write this film during a period when I realized I may no longer be able to survive in the city that raised me. This feeling is distinctly different than leaving home by choice. Native New Yorkers have a deep affection for our city, so to feel like this place no longer loves you back—and even actively wants to get rid of you—is a painful reality to face. There are key values that give New York continuity in its ever-evolving landscape. It is the epicenter of opportunity, freedom of expression, cultural exchange, diversity, and human vitality. Yet, my coming-of-age years were riddled with both large-scale and petty attempts to forego those values in order to fit in with the rest of America. Through Terry and Inez, I was able to explore how that change has impacted its citizens. But what’s happening is bigger than gentrification and another generation of New Yorkers clinging to yesteryears.

Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Teyana Taylor, and A.V. Rockwell on set for A Thousand and One

What happens when major cities are pushed to assimilate in the way Black women have been? How does our world benefit when both people and places are pushed to become homogeneous? No Black woman feels this distress more than the ‘ghetto’ Black woman...What if the spirit of New York City is a ‘ghetto’ Black woman? Inez de la Paz is that personification. Like the New York I grew up with, she is rough and tough but also charismatic and unique. Living her authentic truth, she is either neglected or ostracized at every level of society. Like New York, she is pushed to change core aspects of her being in order to gain acceptance. Those characteristics speak to both a heritage and personal narrative riddled with injustice, but instead of being given medicine to cure a cold, she’s judged for showing symptoms. As a mother, Inez joins a group of women who continue to fight on the frontlines for their community, but who's fighting for them? Will the young child she’s raising, Terry, grow up to be yet another person who overlooks her humanity, too?

The New York I grew up in was a city of people who all had access to the American Dream no matter their walk of life. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for the fierce, deeply-loving, spirit of my Black mother who believed in that dream. The home she provided for her children gave us stability. Had displacement knocked on our door, as it has for so many families now, I don’t know where I’d be, but I highly doubt I would have discovered filmmaking. The city may be willing to shed its long-held identity, but my protagonists, Inez and Terry, understand the price.