Rocks is an independent British drama directed by Sarah Gavron, that depicts Shola (Bukky Bakray), a Black British teenage girl in London, whose troubled single mother abandons her and her younger brother Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu). As a result of this, she takes it upon herself to care for the both of them and to avoid social services, with very little support from her close friends.
What can I say about Rocks? Well, firstly, I’ll start by revealing that I was actually very lucky to go to a pre-screening of the film during the distant summer of 2020, before the film hit Netflix. [Don’t you worry, it was hosted in a COVID friendly Everyman Cinema setting, with mandatory masks for everyone.]
Rocks is a film that instantly attracted me from the moment I watched its trailer, earlier in 2020. I searched for the film afterwards, but it had not yet been released. However, the universe answered my prayers, when I encountered Massive Cinema, an organisation that hosts screenings for up-and-coming films that represent youth culture, and I was able to acquire some tickets to attend a viewing.
As a film, Rocks has so many elements that make it a worthwhile watch. The storyline, young acting talents, settings and soundtrack, all come together to make a worthwhile viewing experience.
Seeing the story of a young, working class British girl, who faces many trials and tribulations is both heart-warming and heartbreaking. As it is a rare depiction, it was emotional to witness the love, laughter and joy that Shola’s character presented, and as a black woman, it was relatable. However, the grittier elements of the storyline i.e., the abandonment of Shola and Emmanuel and the fight to survive with very little to their persons and no adult support was saddening.
The storyline is very impactful, as it showcases the strength that young Black girls have to sometimes demonstrate within our society. When they fear the systems, but have no support, they are able to come up with ingenious ways to survive. However, there is the heartbreaking element that questions a society where this is how young black girls have to be strong. Instead of enjoying the so often labelled ‘best years of your life’ some have to take on roles that are not theirs and bear responsibilities that are so great, they make adults buckle.
Additionally, the narrative we glimpse, encompasses a variety of issues within British society such as mental health, the institutions of foster care and education system and the systems of support for working classes people, particularly Black people.
The scriptwriting of Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson shines throughout, and the dialogue they manufacture is able to create standout moments that linger longer after the film has finished. A particular line that stuck with me is when the grandmother says to her granddaughter, “Not all women are made to be mothers.” I lament on that line, because Shola hears this as an attack on her mother and because she loves her mother, she is quick to defend her, but will not reveal to her grandmother that her mother has abandoned them. This builds on the complexity of the situation presented before us, as an audience.
Friendship is a key theme within this film, and it transcends the viewing experience – there is a connection created between you and the protagonist Shola. As an audience member you empathise with her situation, you experience a rollercoaster of emotions and like her on-screen friends, you too share the same level of concern, love and frustration with Shola. Only the best of writing can accomplish something as pure as that, and that’s why I’m in awe of Ikoko and Wilson.
Recently, I have found that that with the popularity of certain styles and artists, some contemporary soundtracks do not fit the projects they are attached to. The soundtrack of Rocks, whilst trendy and cool, fits in with the world within the film. It is not trying to be cool, but instead ends up being cool as a result of authenticity.
I can’t go without saying that there are so many things to love and admire about this film, but my favourite is that there is a familiarity in the characters. I went to a state school and I could see people who I knew in the characters before me. The dialect and slang the girls use, the ideas they have, the mannerisms they showcase, the clothes they wear and behaviours they exhibit. The use of a young cast, with several first-time actors really allowed an authenticity to show. I cannot claim that these young actors have definitely lived these lives, but they were so effortless in their presentation and so candid in their demeanour – I felt like they weren’t acting, they were just being. Additionally, the attention to detail that came with wardrobe and costume, really allowed a world I can relate come alive on screen. The overall depiction of minority, teenage British girls was relatable in so many ways, yet distant as the story of Shola is unique, a bit like Shola herself.
The film as a whole provides realistic depictions with some soul shattering scenes and uplifting moments. It’s definitely worth a watch for young black and brown girls as they can feel seen and represented. But also, to the wider public so they can see the strength young girls can demonstrate, as well as the areas in which our society needs work in order to aid them.
Rocks was added to US Netflix on February 1 2021 and is already available on UK Netflix.
It has just been longlisted for 8 BAFTA awards.
We interviewed director Sarah Gavron in Issue #3 of the JUMPCUT magazine – click here.