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12th May 2023

The Untold Stories of Black Women: A Thousand and One Review

A. V. Rockwell shows the importance of supporting Black women in Sundance Prize winning feature debut: A Thousand and One
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The Untold Stories of Black Women: A Thousand and One Review
Teyana Taylor and Aaron Kingsley in A THOUSAND AND ONE @ Focus Features

As I write this, I am taking a break from my BA Criminology dissertation surrounding the harms of the way prison is depicted in the media; and how viewers are shown prison through a voyeuristic lens which ultimately affects overdue prison reform. Being in this headspace, I went into A Thousand and One with a metaphorical magnifying glass, ready to scrutinize every little detail.  A. V. Rockwell did not disappoint me. Her film represents a nuanced life story that rightfully demonstrates the state’s responsibility in the disposition of black bodies as opposed to the individuals bound by it its tight grip – also known as the criminal justice system.

A Thousand and One, follows Inez, a recent black female prison leaver who, in the eyes of the law, kidnaps her son Terry in hopes of giving him a better life than she had. Inez’s sacrifices are captured in Rockwell’s tender feature length.

Teyana Taylor and Aaron Kingsley in A THOUSAND AND ONE @ Focus Features

I could not have watched A Thousand and One at a better time. I’ve been frustrated these past couple of weeks because of the isolation of both my working academic degree and my budding filmmaking career. In both of these spaces, Black women are underrepresented and their stories are not shared authentically or accurately. In Criminology, black women are mentioned in a manner that seems like a mandatory diversity inclusion practice as opposed to a genuine regard for their experiences in the criminal justice system. Additionally, the filmmaking opportunities I am awarded often centre white characters that I don’t relate to and that have already historically gained attention.

On one hand, I am grateful to study at university and gain filmmaking experience simultaneously. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel like I am in the wrong places making the wrong decisions. A Thousand and One, calmed this frustration and allowed me to realise that it is possible to create my own space within spaces that I am often shut out of. These things take time.

From a criminological and sociological perspective, A Thousand and One represents the ways in which the government elites criminalise and imprison black women and their children even beyond the walls of a prison cell. Rockwell’s feature-length debut pushes its viewers to think critically, something rarely done in crime/punishment-related media.

The representation of the neoliberal governmental barriers links all the crushing forces of capitalism, racism, colourism, and the patriarchy. The decision to represent them like this is intentional as all these forces operate collectively and affect those more vulnerable in society, such as Black women. From the futile nature of incarceration to the practice of gentrification, A Thousand and One is a film to be studied and deeply understood. The story may be fictitious but the reality of it isn’t. The synopsis alone, “Inez kidnaps her six-year-old son Terry from the foster care system”, reflects the absurdity of state services. Rockwell highlights how government-funded services are likely to operate as a power structure to manage individuals, as opposed to operating at the service of citizens.

Black women are the pillars of the black community. From their completely altruistic sacrifices to their incredible persistence and courage, Black women embody empathy – a factor lacking in the major structures of society. Unfortunately, they do not get half as much praise as they deserve. While the ignorance of the world is expected, but not right, there is a specific pain that is felt when black men are also actively working against them. A Thousand and One demonstrates the evil that is misogynoir and how it is enacted on Black women, even from their own brothers, fathers, uncles, and partners. 

As an aspiring cinematographer, it would be unnatural for me to comment on the filmmaking aspect of the film. I can confidently say that all filmmaking elements from the cinematography and direction, to the set design and costuming, all effectively communicate with each other to describe a painful yet uplifting story. These seemingly conflicting emotions reflect the constant emotional state of most black women, which adds to the authenticity of the storytelling. 

Cinematographer Eric K. Yue (left) and Director A V Rockwell (right) – Photo: Aaron Ricketts @ Focus Features

I also must specifically praise Teyanna Taylor, as Inez, young Aaron Kingsley, Aven Courtney, and finally Josiah Cross as Terry over the years.  I must say that A Thousand and One Sundance Grand Prize title is well deserved and I’m confident that all those who worked on it are bound to harbour success as their careers progress.

All in all, my viewing experience of A Thousand and One was extremely important. Films like these shape my career decision and remind me that even in such a white male-dominated space like film, black women are able to have a voice and can use that voice to speak for those who can’t. This is a filmmaking purpose I strongly align with. 


A Thousand and One is available to stream on Apple TV

Stream the Original Score on Spotify or Apple Music

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