Resilience is a term I have come to despise. The insistence to prove that one can remain stoic in the face of adversity can result in individuals unnecessarily enduring pain for the sake of just proving they’re strong. It is a feeling I am all too familiar with, as is the titular character in Sarah Gavron’s Rocks (2019). The sudden disappearance of the 15-year-old’s mother forces Olushola, nicknamed Rocks, to juggle between caring for herself and her younger brother, Emmanuel.

Since her directorial debut, Gavron has proven to be a fixature in British social realist cinema, with her latest release adding to her acclaimed catalogue, which includes Brick Lane (2007) and Suffragette (2015). Alongside screenwriters Claire Wilson and Theresa Ikoko, the film masterfully tackles the adultification and parentification of black girls, with a specific focus on the effects of such on those from a low socio-economic background. Through Rocks, we see the destructive consequences that arise when black girls internalise the assumption that they are innately more mature and can better withstand both physical and emotional pain. Rocks’ youthful exuberance is marred by the pressure of excessive responsibility, which is an unfortunate reality for many young people globally. In an interview with Stylist, Ikoko expressed how the film pays tribute to “young people from migrant families, poor families, those young people looking after disabled parents, young people who are the only English speaker in their family, those young people whose parents work crazy shifts in order to provide.”

“Rocks has reminded me that I am deserving of peace and joy. We deserve to be human, but the world says otherwise.”

For Rocks, the sudden obligation to act as a parent is compounded by her own pride hindering her to ask for help, which is rooted in her internalisation of the supposed ‘superhuman’ nature of black women and girls. In a confrontation with her best friend Sumaya, the pair’s usual repartee quickly turns sour after Rocks spitefully exclaims “do you think I need you?”, as a rebuttal to Sumaya advising her to seek help. The film makes a point to emphasize both the importance of having a supportive network, whether that be from friends, teachers, or parents, but also the need for black women and girls to know that they are deserving of help and vulnerability. To echo Nicole Dennis-Benn, “innocence, like freedom, is a privilege”. It’s not everyday “we move”. At a time where people are calling on black women to lead the world to freedom, Rocks has reminded me that I am deserving of peace and joy. We deserve to be human, but the world says otherwise.


In a year that has been fraught with uncertainty and anxiety, watching Rocks left me feeling revitalized. On both occasions that I saw the film, first at the Cambridge Film Festival last year and secondly on the film’s general release, I was in a complete state of distress when I entered the theatre. And yet – from the ease in which the slang rolled off their tongues, to the purity of black boy joy, to the positive representation of Muslim women, the authenticity of Rocks almost brought me to tears. While there are glimpses of the tragic occurrences that are common to life on a council estate, with a cutaway shot of balloons, candles, and flowers lying beside a photo, Rocks strives to present the vibrancy in the lives of working class teenage girls from inner-city London. As Skepta’s ‘Energy’ blared through the theatre, there was no bad energy to be found.


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The canon of Black British cinema and television seldom centres the lives of black women and girls, or even dares to imagine their existence as not being contingent on their proximity to the male protagonist — only ever in the capacity of a weary mother or a love interest. To me, Rocks has cemented itself not only as the best release of 2020 but as an essential piece of British cinema. Rest assured, if you are eager to support the film but unable to go to the cinema, Rocks will be available on Netflix from October 1st as part of their Black History Month celebration.