Written by Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, the film is a realistic portrayal of what it is like to be a teenager growing up in London. British Nigerian teenager Rocks and Somali British inner circle Sumaya is made up of Ghanaian Polish, Bangladeshi, English and Congolese girls – a mix of cultures quite common in London public schools.
To arrive at this precise portrayal, it took a year of research and observation in the classrooms of a girl’s school by director, Sarah Gavron, and casting director and story researcher Lucy Pardee. To keep the film authentic, the teen stars brought ideas to the film on almost every level, from the creation of the script, the acting and sometimes even the setting.
BuzzFeed News spoke to Bakray and Ali about playing Rocks and Sumaya, playing for the first time, their plans for the future and what they hope people take away from the viewing. Rocks.
“Many people say that Rocks sounded like a documentary, and that’s what it literally was, ”Bakray said. “It was just being us, rather than acting. ”
The diversity of Rocks, the familiarity of how London is portrayed and the lives of the girls in the film are likely to affect a lot of young people, and it created an on-screen experience that none of the stars in the film said they grew up on. Bakray said she always looks to hip-hop and American sitcoms and films for portrayal, feeling pressured to look abroad to find people like her onscreen.
“There is a book called Black, listed by Jeffrey Boakye, and he says America, for us in the UK, especially for blacks and browns, is like the older brother, ”she said,“ and that’s how it is for me.
In recent years, however, Bakray said she was inspired by writers like Theresa Ikoko and Michaela Coel, whom she described as “entering the industry by fire, by force”. Bakray said being a part of this new movement of black British filmmakers is why it’s so amazing to be a part of Rocks, a sentiment shared by Ali.
“Growing up, I never saw a representation of myself, because my religion plays a big role in who I am,” Ali said.
Ali and Bakray weren’t only the stars of the film, but they had a ton of comments on how the film was made. Parts of Rocks were improvised by the actors, and it created some memorable moments for them. Ali and Bakray both agreed to a scene where their characters fight over food while making malawax (Somali pancakes) their favorite scene. Ali said there were no rules in this scene and remembers Bakray improvising and crying for joy.
“It was such a secure collaboration space where we could share our ideas,” Ali said.
Ali also contributed to the film in other ways, such as providing information on what the house of Sumaya, his character, should look like. Bakray said she enjoyed the times when everyone got together during breaks.
“Do you know when you’re with good people and it feels good?” Yeah, it was like my favorite parts. It made the whole experience so fun.
Ali never expected Rocks be a feature film that would end up at film festivals around the world. “I can’t lie, I thought it was going to be on YouTube, 20 minutes,” she says.
Nor his teammate. “I didn’t think it was going to be like this,” Bakray said. “For example, I grew up watching BuzzFeed videos, I never thought I would do an interview with BuzzFeed now. ”
Before Rocks, none of the stars believed that an acting career would be possible for them. Now their perspective on this has completely changed. Bakray said she had dreamed of becoming an actress, but always thought she would end up with a more conventional and secure career path.
” I feel like Rocks was just a deep part of my life because it taught me to be unruly, ”she said. “It taught me to take risks like, yes, to take risks, basically. Because I didn’t believe in taking risks, I believed in playing it safe.
Ali said her siblings worked in the healthcare industry and she always expected to follow in their more conventional footsteps.
When Rocks came, it was crazy, ”she says. “You know God’s plan is so different from your plan… so I feel like now I’m here and I hope I can do more acting and someday write and direct a few things.
The two hope to start making more films. Bakray calls everyone she’s worked with Rocks her “pretty family” who will always be there for her. “I know the industry can be like the Atlantic Ocean, but I have this boat of women that I know I will always have,” she says.
The film’s UK premiere has been delayed due to COVID-19 security measures, and the two said during that time they kept themselves busy watching more films than ever before. Bakray said she writes and creates art, which Ali said was amazing.
Ali said she skateboarded, watched Korean dramas and was part of a “movie club,” something they created with the women of. Rocks where they meet once a week “to spread their creativity”.
Rocks is now available in UK and Ireland. Find your nearest cinema here.