Teyana Taylor Stars in Film About Motherhood and Life in Changing New York City : NPR

NPR’s Juana Summers talks with actress and singer Teyana Taylor about the new film thousand and one, which follows the story of a woman and her son for over a decade.


At the start of the new film “A Thousand and One”, we meet Inez, a young woman recently released from prison living in Harlem in the 1990s.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Is that Inez?

SUMMERS: Inez has a young son, Terry, who is in foster care and about to be moved to another house.


TEYANA TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) Keep my beeper number in case I find you. ALL RIGHT?


TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) I don’t know yet.

ADETOLA: (As Terry) Why do you keep leaving me?

SUMMERS: Terry’s question prompts Inez to make an impulsive decision, a decision that will change the course of her and Terry’s life.


TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) Would it do you any good if you came and stayed with me?

ADETOLA: (As Terry) Yeah.

SUMMERS: She takes Terry and disappears into the chaos of the city.

TAYLOR: Inez started out as very young, driven, ambitious but also, like, a little immature, you know, in motherhood and just, like, trying to figure out this thing called life, you know, and trying to figure out how s caring for a child.

SUMMERS: It’s Teyana Taylor, who plays Inez. The film follows Inez and young Terry for over a decade as they build a home and a life in a changing New York City, dealing with a rundown apartment, gentrification, racial profiling and the police. When I spoke with Teyana Taylor the other day, I started with a promise Inez made to Terry. I will go to war for you.


TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) They can try anything they want, but they’re not breaking us up this time. Want to find a new home?

ADETOLA: (As Terry) Yes.

TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) But I need to know that we’re in this together. Tell me.

ADETOLA: (Like Terry) We’re in the same boat.

TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) Tell me.

ADETOLA: (Like Terry) We’re in the same boat.

SUMMERS: I felt like when I was watching that she really needed to hear him say it to assert herself.

TAYLOR: Yeah, I think it was a little reassuring there. But I – I think it’s something she wanted Terry to hear herself say. You know, it’s something you believe in – the reassurance that, you know, you’re not going to shut me up because you kind of see Terry come in and out – like, one moment he’s there, and l next moment he’s, like, a little above that. And I think for her, it’s just like, yo. Like, we both want the same thing, so we both have to go out there and do it together. And I need you to pretty much promise me, tell me to my face so you and I can hear, that you’re ready to get through this.

SUMMERS: You’ve had this amazing career, and I know you best from your music. But what attracted you to acting and what attracts you to the character of Inez?

TAYLOR: It’s crazy because when I first auditioned for Inez, I remember not even having the script. It was really just a synopsis and the audition scenes. And just from the synopsis, I was like, OK, this is something I want to be a part of. Of course. A big plus was, of course, that I was from Harlem, so I was like, oh, yeah, that’s perfect. Without even reading the script, she was so – like, I feel like it’s, like, a bit of Inez in everyone. You know? She was strong, ambitious and scammer. And, you know, that’s who I am. So I knew that I would be able to identify with more than being a Harlem girl.

SUMMERS: Yeah. We have to talk about the New York of it all. I mean, like you mentioned, you’re from Harlem, and the way we experience the city changes over the years. I mean, the skyline tells a story. The streets tell a story, the businesses opening, the owners, the voices of New York mayors you hear. How was it for you to be in a film that is so New York in essence?

TAYLOR: It was amazing. And what’s crazy is that I also learned a lot of things that I was too young to really understand because, you know, in 96, I was the age of little Terry. I was literally 6 years old in 96. So a lot of things were going on in those days, either I was too young to really figure it all out or, you know, just during those pre-teen years where I wasn’t paying attention. So I was also able to sort of, relearn a lot, like, very – you know, in great detail about what was happening in New York. And to know that a lot of the things that happened back then are still happening today as adults – it’s kind of crazy.

SUMMERS: Has it changed the way you view your city?

TAYLOR: It definitely is. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s just, like – mostly, like, like, like, you know, trying to get my people out. Like, that was crazy. Like, this passive aggression that was happening was hard to watch.


TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) We don’t have a bathroom, no shower, Jerry. We don’t have a stove, Jerry.

MARK GESSNER: (As Jerry) This building is too old. I’m coming to fix something, I have to come back a few months later.

TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) There has to be another option.

GESSNER: (As Jerry) You can leave.

TAYLOR: I just realize how much beauty and brutality has been taken away in Harlem. Do you know what I’m saying? Sure, Harlem will always be beautiful, but some things that should never have been touched were just, like, crazy.

SUMMERS: So the story touches on a lot of different areas and a lot of different systemic issues in our society, even from the very beginning when we see Inez struggling to find a place for her and her son to live. Can you talk a bit about the different issues that this movie focuses on?

TAYLOR: I think the movie focuses on the fact that black women are unprotected – it really shows that you really only have one mother. Do you know what I’m saying? And how a person–a man can walk in and out of that door, but you just have to be a mother. You still have to do all the heavy lifting. And he also focused on, like, you know, a strong woman who has a voice, and the same thing that maybe she once loves is the same thing that’s used against her. So I think it touches on a lot of different things. It hits on the same police brutality that still happens today. It touches on the same economic things, you know, that happen. It’s literally really the same routine that just doesn’t change. And it really shows that, if anything, not much has changed at all.

SUMMERS: Yeah. You know, without giving away any spoilers, the question I feel like I end up with at the end of the movie is how do you build a family and how far will one person go to protect it. What do you think is the underlying message of this film?

TAYLOR: I think the overall thing is just, like, a mother’s love. You know, it’s really just a love story for all the moms who are scrambling and doing whatever they have to do to make ends meet and give their kids a life they couldn’t. to have. Do you know what I’m saying? I think that’s always the ultimate goal. Do you know what I’m saying? You want your child to be better than you. You want your child to have, you know, a bright future ahead of them. You know, these are the things we work for. It doesn’t matter what your status is, who you are, those are the things we work for to give our kids, you know, a better life. And I think that’s what it’s really about and just, you know, telling all the moms to hold your head up and carry on and don’t allow anyone to knock you down. Continue to be strong. Keep using your voice. Like, don’t feel like you have to, you know, minimize yourself or turn the volume down for anyone.

SUMMERS: Teyana Taylor stars as Inez in ‘One Thousand and One’. Thank you very much for being here.

TAYLOR: No problem. THANKS.


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