‘Friendship as the beating heart’: A review of ‘Rocks’
A brilliant, warm, joyous and heart-breaking film, ‘Rocks’ captures the real experience of being a young female British teenager in the city. It is impressive to note that the film itself was created in collaboration with youth workshops and the young stars themselves were involved in the creative process. The result is a film that is so tantalisingly honest, constantly conflating and shifting restlessly between humour and hardship.
Bukky Bakray plays the resilient and inventive Shola, AKA Rocks. Bakray, who has never acted before then (common amongst the main stars), brings a grounded courage and intense vulnerability to the schoolgirl who is left in a panic-inducing situation. Left to care for younger brother Emmanuel (played with infectious spirit by D’angelou Osei Kissiedu), we witness Rocks navigate a situation with a precarious balance of inward turmoil and a careful external cheeriness. Her friendship group is boisterous and joyful and is perhaps the beating heart of the film. Though not able to relate to Rocks’ situation, they do what friends do best: lift a friend up, affirming the message on Rocks’ wall: “Real queens fix each other’s crowns.” As co-writer Theresa Ikoko noted, “Society often doesn’t let young black girls be young black girls, I really wanted to write something that said: I see your joy and your capacity for love, not just your resilience, your toughness.”
What is also particularly wonderful to see is the casual blend of cultures in London. Rocks, in her flat in Hackney, speaks to her grandmother who is in Nigeria and who speaks almost exclusively in Yoruba. We meet Sumaya (played by Kosar Ali with disarming emotional intelligence) who is the quieter but piercingly observant best friend. Rocks jokingly comments “Mashallah… the Air Forces is a perfect touch”to Sumaya’s burka who grins and explains she “had went mosque with this.”
Sumaya’s brother is also getting married and we gain insight into a Somali wedding celebration as the house is decked out in a profusion of colour, with an enviable array of food and we hear Sumaya’s family member sing joyfully in Somali. We also meet Roche’s Polish stepmother Anna who immediately welcomes Rocks and Emmanuel to her salon. Less explicitly, heritage is hinted at by Kadijah who explains “If you went to Bangladesh they would think ‘Wow! She’s English!… What type of tea does she drink?’”. Sabina also mentions her grandparents who “were in Auschwitz, my great-grandad survived the war.” And though we meet Mo, who is self-titled “Chinese-Jamaican-Ukrainian-English”, it may be safe to say that is probably a bit of an exaggeration.
‘Rocks’ is one of those rare films that makes you forget you are watching one. Released during Black History Month on Netflix, the film is a fitting celebration of the vitality of young black British love and friendship. With a stellar cast and a bittersweet ending, it’s drop on Netflix makes it an accessible must-watch. Here’s hoping to see more of these kinds of films on our screens.