How Rocks raised the bar for authenticity in storytelling
Given that Rocks' premise is based on the familiar story of growing up, it's surprising how joyful and unexpected its story feels. Set in and around Hackney, East London, the film centers on the story of 15-year-old Shola, also known as Rocks, and her close-knit group of school friends. However, when Rocks' depression-prone mother leaves and her little brother and social workers show up at her door, it quickly becomes a story of resilience and the power of girls.
With its naturalistic dialogue, London-inspired soundtrack, and snapshots of phone recordings that pervade the rest of the action, Rocks sometimes feels more like a documentary than drama. This delicate balance is cemented by the on-screen chemistry between the real-life schoolgirls playing the group of friends, most of whom are making their on-screen debuts. The characters, carefully selected from more than 1,300 girls, also excellently represent the melting pot of London life – from the British-Somali Kosar Ali, who plays Rock's best friend Sumaya, to Anastasia Dymitrow as Sabina, who has Polish Roma heritage.
While the entire production was an extremely collaborative process involving both established film and television writer Claire Wilson and director Sarah Gavron, the first seed for rock was planted by playwright and screenwriter Theresa Ikoko. After studying psychology and criminology, the Hackney-born writer began working in various prisons and youth groups. However, during a program organizing theater workshops in London prisons, she noticed the power of storytelling to shed light on different communities and decided to write herself.
“I was still looking at art as it was my first passion, namely criminal justice and community effectiveness,” Ikoko explains. She quickly got involved with Schwarz-run Talawa Theater Company and caused a sensation with her 2015 play Girls, which focused on the kidnapping of Boko Haram schoolgirls in Nigeria. In 2016 she received the George Devine Award for Most Promising Dramatist.