A Thousand and One Movie Review: Teyana Taylor Shines in a Deeply Empathetic Portrait of Holding a Family Together in 1990s Harlem

A Thousand and One is Directed by A.V. Rockwell and Stars Teyana Taylor, Josiah Cross and William Catlett

Review: Sundance 2023’s Grand Jury Prize winner A Thousand and One has a gravitational pull at the center – Teyana Taylor, giving a stunning performance that competes with some of the year’s bests. A riveting drama that puts Director A.V. Rockwell on the map for years to come.

Teyana Taylor in A Thousand and One movie at Sundance film festival winning Grand Jury Prize.
A Thousand and One

The Sundance Film Festival, which I’ve referenced in enough reviews at this point that it feels like self-parody each time I bring it up, serves as the first launch pad for indie movies looking for a home with distribution companies – either on streaming platforms or in front of audiences on the big screen. In many years, especially these last few, it also stands as a chance to champion a few possible sleeper Oscars contenders and awards season hopefuls looking to catch steam before the big hitters arrive later in the year. Movies like Whiplash and CODA are constantly regurgitated as a symbol for the sort of hope and ambition that the cream of the crop can hold onto throughout their respective years.

And like many of the other festivals that fill the calendar into the summer and fall seasons, Sundance offers a Grand Jury Prize. Many of these awards seem like obvious choices by the time the festival closes up shop – like the two aforementioned movies that went on to live in our culture for at least the next twelve months – but others occasionally feel like they garnered more muted responses. A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One feels generally like it’s living in the latter. Perhaps it’s due to the film’s short release window as it quickly hit VOD services and is now available to stream on Peacock with a subscription, but I’d venture to guess that it may be due to the equally hush tone many of its competitors have also reveled in – this year may have just been a bit of a down year for the festival in general.

But that’s not to say that the uninspired marketing of Sundance’s movies thus far is a direct response to a porous set of films. In fact, its Grand Jury Prize winner A Thousand and One, which I was finally able to lay my eyes on, is really quite good – the type of movie that delivers the same emotionally jarring moments and performances that rivals past winners and indie darlings.

A Thousand and One’s narrower word-of-mouth could also be the indirect result of a grandiose performance by Teyana Taylor that swallows the movie whole. Taylor hasn’t been credited in many features before, mostly filling her IMDb and Letterboxd page with voice work and cameos that don’t offer a wide scope of the talents that she possesses. Perhaps the best way to familiarize yourself with her work is with her gorgeously performed musical projects (my favorite personally being the Kanye-backed K.T.S.E. album from 2018).

I didn’t think much about my relationship to Teyana Taylor as a performer before I went into A Thousand and One, but by the halfway point it wasn’t too difficult to see why Rockwell had sought her out to serve as the lead character in her debut film. Taylor is a powerhouse in this movie, and throughout the emotional turbulence and rotating cast of characters (because A Thousand and One takes place over a decade span in Harlem), the movie always recenters around her. The Grand Jury Prize is meant to be a reflection of the best film offered at Sundance each year, but it’s easy to let your mind wonder and ask if whether the award was overwhelmingly a response to Taylor’s ability to capture a family’s volatility at a moment’s notice.

The movie weaves in and out of the lives of Taylor’s Inez and her son Terry (played by a trio of actors – Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, and Josiah Cross as the character ages from an early age through teenage adolescence) as they encounter forces pulling apart their relationship and the infrastructure in which they live – Inez struggling to find reliable employment, Terry learning to grow up as an African American in the dampened and grotesque world of NYC in the 90s, etc. I was worried at times that A Thousand and One was going to fall into general movie trappings of displaying similar cultural struggles that have been portrayed better in the past, but it constantly feels more genuine and sincere at each turn.

Reviews for Movies like A Thousand and One (2023)

At about the point that A Thousand and One takes its first jump forward in time, Inez begins seeing a man named Lucky (William Catlett). At first, the movie takes caution with his character and puts us in the head of Terry as he struggles accepting another person into the home they’ve spent years nurturing and concealing. Many contemporary movies have chosen to display this narrative before – one character acts out, commits violence, and the trajectory of the movie changes altogether. A Thousand and One easily could’ve gone in that direction, but because of the savvy and nuanced story A.V. Rockwell pulls together here, the movie builds heavily upon the racially strenuous world that these characters live in.

A Thousand and One isn’t without its flaws – perhaps being emotionally obvious and at times, Terry’s character not being consistent enough between time jumps to get a full understanding of, a third act that putters out rather than sticking the landing with emphasis – but there’s plenty to stew over as the movie beautifully maneuvers around the deeply intense state of that densely populated area during that time in history. The technical work matches the melancholic tone of their household; deep blues and dark greys line the walls of their apartment, and the score leaves you feeling muddied and beaten by the time the credits role.

But still, A Thousand and One begins and ends with Teyana Taylor, a performance of the year contender early on and one of the true breakout screen presences so far in 2023. It’s a sobering experience given the visual and sonic work being done, but you leave feeling like you’ve watched a star being born.


Genre: Drama

A Thousand and One is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video and VOD

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A Thousand and One Film Cast and Credits

A Thousand and One Cast and Crew, including director A.V. Rockwell and actor Teyana Taylor


Teyana Taylor as Inez

William Catlett as Lucky

Aaron Kingsley Adetola as Terry (Age 6)

Aven Courtney as Terry (Age 13)

Josiah Cross as Terry


Director: A.V. Rockwell

Writer: A.V. Rockwell

Cinematography: Eric Yue

Editors: Sabine Hoffman, Kristan Sprague

Composer: Gary Gunn