When her mum abandons the family, Rocks is left to care for her younger brother Emmanuel, and deal with everything else being a fifteen-year-old girl in East London entails, all while keeping up appearances to the outside world to ensure social services don’t separate her from her brother. The heart-wrenching plot is tempered with the supportive network Rocks has in her best friends, a group of girls from various cultural backgrounds, accurately reflecting what modern teenage friendship groups look like in London today.
Where Black British coming-of-age films usually centre teenage boys, it was a pleasant and refreshing change to see the joys of Black girlhood, and the unwritten rules of sisterhood unfold in such an authentic and relatable way on the big screen. Some of the most enjoyable scenes in this film depict the group of friends just being, laughing and messing around. The focus on women doesn’t end there, as the entire production is crafted by an all-female team; from writers, Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, to director Sarah Gavron, costume designer Ruka Johnson and the majority-female artists on the film soundtrack. Even the key authoritative figures in the film were women, and mainly women of colour.
A theme that stood out for me in Rocks was the concept of the Eldest Child Syndrome. In ethnic households this is specifically the Eldest Daughter Syndrome, a duty bestowed on the first-born child (read: girl) to absorb some parental burden. In the case of Rocks, she absorbs all of it and accepts the role of guardian and carer for her brother, while simultaneously being deprived of that care herself. It made me consider how society doesn’t allow Black girls to be children, and how this has wider societal repercussions contributing to lack of opportunity and less lenient treatment compared to our non-Black counterparts.
In one part of the film, in dealing with the fall-out of her mother’s departure, Rocks is punished for perceived disobedience in school. This is just one of the ripple effects of Eldest Child Syndrome; not only did this affect Rocks academically but put a strain on some of her friendships too. Rocks never loses focus on prioritising her brother and while some may admire her resilience, I can’t help but be angry at the systems and traumas that force girls like Rocks to be resilient in the first place. Trauma doesn’t reveal strength, it reveals coping mechanisms.
Bukky Bakray was fantastic in the titular role of Rocks. As a young actress she shows so much potential in her ability to portray realistic emotions, to the point that some scenes resembled documentary footage rather than fiction. The scene-stealer however, is D’angelou Osei Kissiedu who plays the comically innocent, but equally loving Emmanuel. His version of The Lord’s Prayer that replaces ‘thy will be done’ with ‘I won’t be done’ is a mantra I’ve adopted myself. I won’t be done IJN. Another standout performance comes from Kosar Ali who plays loyal jokester, Sumaya, a role she was born for. I am confident we will be seeing more of her work in the future.
While some lines were spoken over one another and initially came across as interrupted rhythms, as the scenes progressed they added to the authenticity of the film, and contributed to its life-like nature.
What I loved about this film was that it told an authentic story, not rooted in racial oppression, but just a compelling story of hardship, peppered with the joys of adolescence and Black Girl Magic. The film passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, where the only discussion of boys is right at the start in jest. The rest of the story focusses on friendship and survival. A must-see.
Watch Rocks in cinemas and Netflix UK now!