I spoke to Rockwell—who grew up in Queens, attended high school in Brooklyn, and went to film school at NYU—about where her movie came from.
Vogue: I was lucky enough to see A Thousand and One at Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. Can you tell me what the experience of winning that award was like?
A.V. Rockwell: Oh, man. Sundance was a whirlwind. It’s just nuts, and it can be a turning point for any filmmaker. But obviously, winning the Grand Jury prize was insane. The most special part was hearing what the jury had to say—Jeremy O. Harris spoke on behalf of all of them. His words were so pure and honest and heartfelt that you could really tell that this movie touched him on a deep, emotional level. I made the movie for people like him. I wanted people to be able to see themselves in these characters—so that was the real success.
I know you grew up in Queens and went to high school in Brooklyn. Did you draw on your own New York childhood to tell this story?
I always knew that I wanted to tell a coming-of-age story about my experience in New York and saying farewell to that time—just seeing the city change dramatically, seeing firsthand how gentrification was impacting communities of color and Black communities specifically, which felt targeted, like we were being erased from the city altogether. Knowing what was at stake, especially for a neighborhood like Harlem—which means something not only to New Yorkers, but to Black identity in general, our heritage and our culture, and American history—to see it washed away was devastating.
People often talk about the benefits of gentrification, but when you think about people who are the most vulnerable, like my characters, and you see them trying to gain a sense of home, gain a sense of stability and rebuild the bond of a family—and to see them get knocked down by a new thing that’s thrown at our community—this is the human price of gentrification.