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Teyana Taylor stars in a movie about motherhood and life in a changing New York City

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

At the beginning of the new movie "A Thousand And One," we meet Inez, a young woman who's recently out of prison living in Harlem in the 1990s.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A THOUSAND AND ONE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Is that Inez?

SUMMERS: Inez has a young son, Terry, who's in foster care and about to be moved to a different home.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A THOUSAND AND ONE")

TEYANA TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) Save my beeper number just in case till I find you. OK?

AARON KINGSLEY ADETOLA: (As Terry) When?

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

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

SUMMERS: Terry's question prompts Inez to make an impulsive decision, one that will change the course of her and Terry's lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A THOUSAND AND ONE")

TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) Would it make you feel better 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 really young, motivated, ambitious but also, like, a little tiny bit immature, you know, in motherhood and just, like, kind of trying to figure out this thing called life, you know, and trying to figure out how to care for a child.

SUMMERS: That's Teyana Taylor, who plays Inez. The movie follows Inez and young Terry over more than a decade as they make a home and a life for themselves in a changing New York City, dealing with a crumbling apartment, gentrification, racial profiling and policing. When I spoke with Teyana Taylor the other day, I started with a promise that Inez makes to Terry. I'll go to war for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A THOUSAND AND ONE")

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

ADETOLA: (As Terry) Yes.

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

ADETOLA: (As Terry) We're in this together.

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

ADETOLA: (As Terry) We're in this together.

SUMMERS: It felt like to me when I was watching that that, like, she really just needed to hear him say it to affirm herself.

TAYLOR: Yeah, I think it was a little bit of reassurance there. But I also - I think it's something that she wanted Terry to hear himself saying. You know, this is something that you believe in - the reassurance that, you know, you're not going to shut down on me because you kind of see Terry going in and out of - like, one moment he's there, and next moment he's, like, kind of over it. And I think for her, it's just like, yo. Like, we both want the same thing, so we both got to go and get it together. And I need you to pretty much promise me, tell me to my face so both you and I can hear, that you're willing to ride this out.

SUMMERS: You have had this incredible career, and I am most familiar with you because of your music. But what drew you to acting, and what draws 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, me being from Harlem, so I was like, oh, yeah, this is perfect. Without even reading the script, she was so much - like, I feel like it's, like, a little bit of Inez in everybody. You know? She was strong, and she was ambitious, and she was a hustler. And, you know, that's who I am. So I definitely knew that I would be able to relate on top of being a Harlem girl.

SUMMERS: Yeah. We've got to talk about the New York of it all. I mean, as you mentioned, you are from Harlem, and the way that we experience the city changes over the years. I mean, the skyline tells a story. The streets tell a story, the businesses that open, the landlords, the voices of New York's mayors that you hear. What was it like for you being in a movie that is just, like, so New York to its core?

TAYLOR: It was amazing. And what's crazy is I also got to further learn a lot of the things that I was too young to really understand because, you know, in '96 I was little Terry's age. I was literally 6 in '96. So a lot of the things that were going down in that time, either I was too young to really all the way understand or, you know, kind of just in those preteen years where I wasn't paying attention. So I also was able to kind of, like, relearn a lot, like, very - you know, in a detailed way about what was happening in New York. And to know that a lot of the things that were happening then is still happening now in my adult years - it's kind of crazy.

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

TAYLOR: It definitely did. You know what I'm saying? It's just, like - especially, like, trying to, like, you know, push my people out. Like, that was crazy. Like, that passive aggressiveness that was happening was hard to watch.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A THOUSAND AND ONE")

TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) We have no bathroom, no shower, Jerry. We have no stove, Jerry.

MARK GESSNER: (As Jerry) This building is too old. I come in and fix something, I got to come back a couple months later.

TAYLOR: (As Inez de la Paz) There's got to be another option.

GESSNER: (As Jerry) You could leave.

TAYLOR: Just realizing how much of the beauty and rawness was taken away from Harlem. You know what I'm saying? Of course, Harlem is going to forever be beautiful, but certain things that just should have never been touched being touched was 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 just even find a place for her son and her to live. Can you talk a little bit about the different issues that this movie focuses on?

TAYLOR: I think the movie focus in how just unprotected Black women are - it really just kind of shows that you really only do get one mom. You know what I'm saying? And how a person - a man can walk, you know, in and out that door, but you're still left to be a mom. You're still left to do all the heavy lifting. And it also focused on, like, you know, a strong woman having a voice, and the same thing that maybe they once like is the same thing that's being used against her. So I think it hits on a lot of different things. It hits on the same police brutality that is still happening today. It's hitting on the same economic, you know, things that are happening. It's literally really all the same routine that is just not changing. And it's really showing that, if anything, not much has changed at all.

SUMMERS: Yeah. You know, without giving away any spoilers, the question that I feel like I was left with thinking about at the end of the film is the question of how you build a family and the lengths a person will go to protect it. What do you think the overlying message in this film is?

TAYLOR: I think the overall thing is just, like, a mother's love. You know, it's really just a love story to all the moms out there that is hustling and doing whatever they got to do to make ends meet to give their kids a life that they weren't able to have. You know what I'm saying? I think that that's always the ultimate goal. You know what I'm saying? You want your kid to be better than you. You want your kid to have, you know, a bright future ahead of them. You know, these are the things that we work for. No matter what status, who you are, these are the things that we work for to provide our kids with, you know, a better life. And I think that's what it's really about and just, you know, telling all the mamas to keep their head up and keep going and just don't allow anybody to knock you down. Continue to be strong. Continue to use your voice. Like, don't feel like you got to, you know, minimize yourself or turn your volume down for anybody.

SUMMERS: Teyana Taylor stars as Inez in the movie "A Thousand And One." Thank you so much for being here.

TAYLOR: No problem. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEPALOT'S "LOVE OCEAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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