"A Thousand and One" Isn't a True Story, but It Pulls From Writer-Director A.V. Rockwell's Experiences

Gritty, raw, and moving, "A Thousand and One" is already generating buzz among critics for its depiction of a mother and son struggling to survive in an increasingly gentrified and evolving New York City.

Written and directed by A.V. Rockwell, who's 2018 short film, "Feathers," was an Oscar contender, "A Thousand and One" follows Inez (Teyana Taylor), a young mother who reconnects with her son, Terry, after she is released from prison in 1994. Stuck in the foster care system as a young child, Terry expresses to Inez that he wants to be with her, so Inez kidnaps him from the state and raises him from adolescence to young adulthood. Over the course of two decades, Inez and Terry grow and adapt to the changing world around them, as Harlem and New York City as a whole become gentrified throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

While not based on a true story, "A Thousand and One" draws inspiration from Rockwell's life and her relationship with New York City. Ahead of the film's premiere on March 31, let's dive into what inspired "A Thousand and One."

The Real Life Inspiration Behind "A Thousand and One"

The story and characters portrayed in the film are not based on a true story, but rather inspired by Rockwell's life growing up in New York City. She told The Philadelphia Tribune in a February 2023 interview that, while writing the film, "I pulled from references from women that I know and have interacted with. It was important to me to humanize her." Rockwell added, "What I had in mind as I was writing it was about a young Black woman coming of age in New York as a native New Yorker...[I wanted to use] that lens to speak on how those changes affected me as a child and the young mothers in their 20's that were surrounding me and nurturing me. Seeing how they endured."

In addition to basing the characters off of the resilience, sacrifice, and strength of the women around her growing up, Rockwell was also inspired by her own relationship with New York City as it became more gentrified. When asked what drew her to this specific story, she explained to IndieWire in a January 2023 interview, "The way that gentrification was reshaping New York City and me, especially observing that, it didn't feel super natural. It wasn't like every aspect of the city was changing. It felt like certain neighborhoods were being targeted." She continued, "I loved the city so deeply that it felt like part of who I am, and I felt like, OK, well, New York must not love me in the same way. I think that awareness of unreciprocated love and that feeling of being erased was a huge motivator for me."

At the heart of "A Thousand Words" is a lesson in empathy and understanding that everyone needs a dose of it from time to time. As a viewer, it is easy to be captured by the resilience and sacrifice of Inez, who, despite racism and socioeconomic factors working against her, tries to give her son a better life than the one she came from, even if that means making difficult, life-altering decisions.

Catch the complex, emotional journey of Inez and Terry in "A Thousand Words," which hits theaters on March 31, and watch the trailer below.

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