Rocks: A Film Review
Directed by Sarah Gavron, 'Rocks' (2020) is a coming-of-age film set in London. It tells the story of a 15-year-old Black British girl nicknamed Rocks, played by Bukky Bakray. After their mother – played by Layo-Christina Akinlude abandons them due to her struggles with mental health issues, forcing Rocks to look after herself and her younger brother, Emmanuel.
There is an expectation that young black girls, especially older siblings, take on a parental role at home. Regardless of age and irrespective of whether there's one parent at home or two. Something that I too have to experience, even given the title 'Mummy no.2'.
As someone who attended and since left an all-girl secondary school, it was delightful to see a young group of girls; experiencing school as I did. Getting into catty arguments with other girls, talking back at teachers and goofing off at lunch. Reminiscing and reflecting on my own secondary school experience is why this film is now one of my personal favourites.
'Rocks' also highlights the 'strong black girl' narrative. Due to our protagonist's situation, we see Rocks do her best to fulfil this role by trying to be strong for both her and her brother. Rocks' belief that she does not need or deserves help leads her to create rifts in her friendships. Instead, she steals cash from a new friend and later lies to a hotel owner desperate for shelter and is soon forced to face her action's consequences.
Coupled with her acting up in class, it is clear that she's going through a hard time. Yet, her teachers fail to see this and assume she's misbehaving intentionally – an underlying bias that teachers have toward black students.
Soon, Rocks reluctantly asks to her stay at a friends house. When morning comes, she's awoken by the intrusive presence of social services as they take her and her brother away. A scene so heart-wrenching, the only reasonable reaction is to press pause and cry for 5 minutes.
Placed with a kind Caribbean foster family, Rocks (understandably) denies the food cooked for her, only to sneak into the kitchen in the middle of the night swipe a piece of meat from the pot. A minor offence committed by many Black youths and hated by all Black mothers – something I have been guilty of many times over.
It's easy to paint the mother as selfish and as a bad parent in a situation like this. But we are reminded that being a single mother on its own is an emotionally demanding job role. It is clear she loves her children and wants what is best for them and is doing what she believes is right.
Towards the end of the film, Rocks reconciles her friendships, and we see them put their money together to buy a train ticket so Rocks can visit her brother at his new foster home. Seeing him from a distance outside his school gates, Rocks realises that it is best for both of them not to see each other and that they'll meet again when the time is right.
'Rocks' does a phenomenal job of highlighting, the importance of young female friendships, sisterhood and family. We witness a young black girl who struggles in asking for help, despite her friends being more than willing to do just that. We're shown the dynamics of this friendship and its importance. Everything Rocks and her friends did were things my friends and I did (not including getting into physical altercations). Though this masterpiece is made to break your heart, it successfully makes one feel nostalgic about their own time in secondary school.