A Thousand and One tackles many themes, and a lot of them have to do with New York City.

The film, directed by A.V. Rockwell in her feature debut, stars Teyana Taylor, Will Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney and Aaron Kingsley Adetola. It focuses on Inez, played by Taylor, as she has one last thing to do before she’s on the straight and narrow–kidnapping 6-year-old Terry from the foster system. A Thousand and One shows the mother and son duo (Cross plays an elder Terry in his teens) as they try to reclaim their sense of “home, identity and stability” as Harlem is changing right in front of them.

“I wanted to tell a story that honored the era New York that I grew up in and it was just kind of me saying farewell to that time,” said Rockwell in an interview with Shadow and Act. “But I think there was also a sense of urgency in wanting to see how the change was impacting communities that were most vulnerable in the city. I think [it was] seeing gentrification firsthand and how that was reshaping New York in a way that it felt like Black communities were being pushed out altogether and being erased. I’m a New York City kid who loves it through and through, and so, it’s like, how do I feel about the fact that the city feels like we were being targeted…it’s like the city doesn’t love me. In so many ways, I wanted to make this movie to reconcile that, but also to shine a light on the negative impacts of gentrification, because people have tried to argue for the way people are supposed to be benefiting, but it’s supposed to benefit the population that already exists in these communities. So I really wanted to shine a light on how it works and who it impacts and what that impact looks like.”

Taylor explained, “In that era of Inez, I was like Terry’s age. So that age, you know, we didn’t really understand what was going on, but we remember all the things that were so accessible– the block parties, the cookouts, how Mom and Pop it felt. It was like one big family in Harlem, and now, it’s so quiet. So to go back home, of course, I was excited to like see my friends and go to all my favorite food spots and [I’d] see that a lot of it had been erased on top of the seasoning salt that was on there. It was more bland than auntie’s fried chicken…it was giving me more of an uncooked baked wing. It was a lot for us to take in and it was even emotional for us to have to rebuild out the sweet spots in Harlem. I’m OK with evolution and everybody evolves and different things like that, but a lot of the changes that was being done in Harlem wasn’t to benefit my community. It was to push us out. So it was definitely emotional to see how much change there was.”

Rockwell and Taylor note how the gentrification and changes are also evident in how Inez evolves throughout the film.

“In a sense, I feel like Inez has been gentrified,” said Taylor. “She was just so vibrant. She slowly starts to lose that vibrant accent. Her voice [was] getting lower and lower. She damn is near to a place where she doesn’t have a voice… like that spunk. It’s sad to see her change just as much as New York. We didn’t shoot in order, so one day I had to be vibrant, young and colorful New York, and then you see New York become more and more gray and [see] more glass.”

“I saw parallels in the story of New York and the way it lost a sense of personality,” said Rockwell. “It had to try to become a lot more like everywhere else, and I feel like that in so many ways, that is the journey of Black women. Like, we’re not accepted as we are, we’re not accepted for the things that make us unique and special.”

Taylor chimed in, adding, “They tear us down like they tear down a whole building, and rebuild us to be what they want us [to be].”

“You have to lose that sense of who you are in order to be loved by everybody,” Rockwell said. “I saw an article recently that said ‘The sound of gentrification is quiet.’ And I was like, ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to portray in this movie.’ I think Black women are also told that ‘Maybe if you were a bit more quiet, maybe if you talked a certain way, maybe if you walked a certain way, then life would be better for you.'”

“Or if you wasn’t so miserable,” said Taylor. “Considered miserable for being strong is crazy. And then in the same nutshell, somebody will [ask] you why you didn’t fight back on a certain thing. It’s like, ‘Oh, OK cool. So my spiciness is beneficial when it benefits you. But when it’s to uplift myself, it’s a problem.'”

Watch the full interview with Taylor and Rockwell above.

A Thousand and One is in theaters now.