Hello and welcome to the Scene 2 Seen podcast season 2! I am your host Valerie Complex.
I had planned to take a 6 week hiatus from the podcast in order to plan the next season but ended up being gone for three months. Unfortunately, I had a family tragedy I had to deal with and It took me some time to regroup. Now we’re back in business with guest Teyana Taylor and A.V. Rockwell, star and director of Focus Feature film A Thousand and One which is now available on Peacock TV and Prime Video streaming platforms.
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Rockwell (writer, director, executive producer) is an award-winning screenwriter and director. Named as one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film,” her distinctive voice has been celebrated for slyly addressing issues of race, identity and systemic oppression. Rockwell’s debut feature film, A Thousand and One, was written and directed for Focus Features. The film stars Teyana Taylor and was produced by Sight Unseen, MakeReady and Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad.
Inez (Taylor) is the central presence in A Thousand and One, which traces her experiences as a Black woman struggling amongst the violence of gentrification to navigate the responsibilities of motherhood while wrestling with the secrets of her past. Unfolding over the course of two decades, the intimate, moving drama sees Inez attempt to create a better life for herself and son Terry. Making the impulsive decision to kidnap the boy from his foster home, Inez flees with him to Harlem, where she does whatever she can to build a safe and stable home, even as New York City rapidly changes all around them.
Rockwell’s short film Feathers was acquired by Searchlight Pictures ahead of its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Both Feathers and her shorts series Open City Mixtape are streaming on the Criterion Collection. Rockwell studied filmmaking at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and has received fellowships from Tribeca Film Institute, the Sundance Institute and the John S. Guggenheim Foundation.
Taylor is an R&B performer and choreographer who has rocketed to global celebrity after working with mega-selling artists including Beyoncé. Taylor choreographed the singer’s video for “Ring the Alarm” when she was just 15 years old and subsequently directed many of her own music videos, while also continuing to work with other artists. More recently, she branched into acting, appearing in such films as the 2021 comedy Coming 2 America.
Hailing from Harlem, Taylor says she felt an immediate and powerful connection to the character. “Inez being from New York of course spoke to me, you know?” Taylor says. “Brooklyn or The Bronx, Queens, she’s been all over, but she’s a Harlem girl. When I read the script, it was amazing. I felt the character. I felt Inez.”
The actress was also touched by the central moral dilemma the film presents. “This film is about a really strong woman who has to make the wrong decision for the right reasons,” Taylor says. “She’s been through a lot but still has a heart of gold. That’s the important thing. The intentions are so pure. She just wants to help, and she just want to look out for Terry. She wants to love and wants that love to be reciprocated.”
The film was shot in approximately six weeks during the summer of 2021, primarily in practical locations in Harlem, though the production also visited Brooklyn, lower Manhattan and Staten Island. Filmmaker Rockwell partnered with an innovative behind-the-scenes team that was eager to help her realize her vision: Eric Yue served as the film’s cinematographer; Sharon Lomofsky was the production designer and Melissa Vargas was the costume designer.
Although shooting on location was an enormously challenging endeavor, Rockwell felt it was necessary to give the drama the realism and the sense of urgency necessary to properly tell the story. From her vantage point as a native New Yorker, Rockwell wanted to authentically recreate the metropolis as it evolves from 1994 to 2005.
On today’s episode I talk with these two native New Yorkers about the beginning of gentrification in the city, and how they both pulled from their experiences growing up in the city to make this film come to life.
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