The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of A Thousand and One.
Can you describe the origins of this film, and why this story was one decided to tell?
A.V. Rockwell: I really wanted to tell a story, especially for my first film, that recognized my coming of age experience in New York City… and in that process, I could say farewell to the era that I grew up in. But I think what made it an urgent story was just really seeing how the city was starting to change dramatically in ways that it hadn’t before, in the sense that it felt like communities of color, black communities of New York, specifically, we were being targeted and being pushed out and erased from the city altogether. And experiencing that and witnessing that change firsthand was really hard to reconcile because, like, how do I feel about the fact that the city that I love so deeply doesn’t seem to love me and my people? And so I think this movie was an opportunity to do a deep dive into that. And I think in the ways that you see Terry and Inez, two people that are extremely vulnerable, you know, coming out of the foster care system, but yet here they are fighting for a home and gaining a sense of stability and building a family bond. And we see the power of having all of that, what it means to these two people. And so I think for them, they represent the generations of people that I’ve seen coming out of a community like Harlem that have fought for generations for that, and to have gentrification be yet one more obstacle that knocks us down again was just really, you know, really hard to see and to think about. And I thought about all the communities that aren’t served by the benefits of gentrification. So I think outside of that, I also just wanted to acknowledge my own story as a woman and a black woman coming up in this city, the inner city. I wanted this to be like my love letter to the inner city black women that nurtured me and uplifted me. And yet they’re made to feel so misunderstood and invisible within society, and not only within society, within our own communities, as you see showcased in the film. So I really wanted to show Inez as going on a journey, as a way to present the question of who is really fighting for us. Because you see, over the course of the movie, how she’s fighting for everyone else. She never fully feels loved and fully feels embraced. And I think that’s the story of so many black women, regardless of what their station is in life, just feeling like no matter what we give to the world, we’re made to feel that we are never quite enough. And, you know, is there anybody out there that will fully love us and not just see us as their superheroes? Or, you know, only see us when they need us.
I really wanted to know exactly what was happening in New York over this time period
Teyana, what drew you to the character of Inez?
Teyana Taylor: Everything A.V. said! Yeah. And it’s something that…that you feel the moment you read the script. Even with the synopsis, you know, it was… that was all I needed to see. Actually, the synopsis was all I really had— I hadn’t even had the script yet. And I immediately put myself on tape and knew that this was something that I wanted to be a part of because it was something I could relate to on so many different levels. You know, with getting into an industry where you kind of already feel unappreciated, or a little invisible, or unheard or, you know, different things like that… I can relate to Inez in a lot of those ways. I definitely wanted to be a part of this film and bring the story to life.
Could you discuss your research process for this film, specifically regarding the foster care system in New York City?
A.V. R: Yeah, I mean, that was definitely a part of it. I think I started at the foundation of the film just based on what my lived in experience of New York was. But I think obviously I had to do research into the areas that weren’t my experience, like the foster care system and making sure that I if I’m going to represent that in the film, especially in such a foundational way, that I did right by that story, that I was really representing it accurately, in addition to just making sure that I had all the information I needed to know how Inez would have done what she does in the film. But it went beyond that, I think, beyond my lived experience with the New York… I really wanted to know because this would have been stuff that I experienced as a child, like what was happening in the world, and how did we get here to where we’re at today? Obviously, the movie takes place over 20 years ago, so I did a wealth of research. I really wanted to know exactly what was happening in New York over this time period and how that would have impacted the life of these characters and of the people of New York City. But I also just wanted to know what this moment in time meant for New York in general, like for a city that is always changing. Was this just another shift or was this something different? And I think the research that I did into the history of New York confirmed that it was something I think there was just this shift at the turn of the century. And you see the landscape of New York changing and a lot, and the continuity of what makes New York, New York shifting dramatically. And it doesn’t feel like the same city to me. Just taking that deep dive and just learning what this means within the history of the city, because I think the movie is so much bigger than gentrification, even though that’s talked about, talked about a lot. I think it’s really about just what New York is altogether, where it’s at in its journey. And so I think all of that was important as well as also really unpacking how New York relates to the black community, because I didn’t feel loved… and also how we were being treated amongst other groups, other marginalized, marginalized groups that are also fighting for their place in the city. But I realized it never did. You know, it is it’s not that it didn’t love us. Now it’s like every period of progress in New York’s development has been at our expense, you know, from the beginning. But even when we were a community that was just below Wall Street, every time the city expanded, it was at our expense. And so to me, this is just like a climactic moment where we’re being potentially pushed off Manhattan Island altogether. And so I hope that this story, in all the ways that I was informed in the research to speak to what this time period is, I hope it creates an opportunity to talk about how New York relates to its citizens and the progress of the city, why the chase and pursuit of commerce always has to come before the needs of its communities and its citizens.
The chemistry between Inez and Terry, in all his ages, is so incredible. How did you create that bond?
TT: Inez was extremely heavy to play, but it was also extremely easy to pour myself into her, since I had already seen a lot of Inez within me, and it was really therapeutic for me to play her, for that reason. I was dealing with postpartum depression when I took on the role. So, you know, Inez was an outlet for me. So not only was I doing postpartum depression, but to go back home to my hometown and see so much history be erased, so much of the things that was accessible for my community be erased… My friends literally be erased. I was dealing with a lot of deaths, literally going to funerals during my lunch break. So, yeah, it was a lot. And I think timing is everything because I was able to really just throw my cape to the side and just have a moment of weakness for once, you know? Not have to be the strong woman, not have to be the super wife, not have to be this superstar to, you know, my supporters, not be a super mom… You know, I got to just like, cry out loud, deal with whatever quiet demons I was fighting. You know, though, I never let my demons defeat me. I defeated them. You know, I was able to allow Inez to be that outlet and to be that therapy session for me to cry out loud, because I knew that when A.V. yelled “cut,” that I had to go home, put my cape back on, and turn back into supermom and super wife and just super everything… and be a superhero. And you know, people don’t realize there’s a lot of the time a strong woman has to be strong and it’s never really by choice at all. You know we’re praised for being strong for others and showing up for others. But when we show up ourselves it’s an issue, you know, and I think that that’s why I relate to Inez so much. I think all women can relate to Inez because we’re always told to, you know, minimize our voice. You know, we’re not protected, we’re not appreciated enough, we’re not loved enough. So, you know, it was it was really, really easy to tap into Inez emotionally and mentally.