Rocks, the highly anticipated film that had its April release delayed due to the outbreak of COVID-19, is finally hitting theaters. Bukky Bakray, who plays Shola aka Rocks, and Kosar Ali, who plays her friend Sumaya, star in the coming-of-age film set in Hackney, East London.
Written by Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, the film is a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a teen growing up in London. Rocks, a British Nigerian teenager, and British Somali Sumaya’s inner circle is made up of Polish, Bangladeshi, English, and Congolese Ghanaian girls — a blend of cultures that is quite common in London state schools.
To get to that accurate depiction, it took a year of research and observation in classrooms of a girls school by the director, Sarah Gavron, and casting director and story researcher Lucy Pardee. In order for the film to be authentic, the teen stars contributed ideas to the film at almost every level, from the creation of the script, the acting, and sometimes even the set.
BuzzFeed News spoke to Bakray and Ali about playing Rocks and Sumaya, acting for the first time, their plans for the future, and what they hope people take away from watching Rocks.
Ali said she feels that she and her character, a 15-year-old British Somali girl, are basically the same person. Bakray feels the same way. While some of their experiences were different, Bakray can relate to her character as a young black woman who attended an all-girls school in East London.
“A lot of people say that Rocks felt like a documentary, and that’s what it literally was,” said Bakray. “It was just us being, rather than acting.”
The diversity of Rocks, the familiarness of how London is portrayed, and the lives the girls live in the film will likely strike a chord with a lot of young people, and it’s created an onscreen experience that neither of the film’s stars said they had growing up. Bakray said she always looked to hip-hop and American sitcoms and films for representation, feeling like she had to look overseas to find people like herself onscreen.
“There’s a book called Black, Listed by Jeffrey Boakye, and he says that America, for us in the UK, especially for Black and brown people, is like the older brother,” she said, “and that’s how it was for me.”
In recent years, though, Bakray said she has been inspired by writers like Theresa Ikoko and Michaela Coel, whom she described as “entering the industry by fire, by force.” Bakray said becoming a part of this new movement of Black British filmmakers is why it feels so amazing to be a part of Rocks, a feeling Ali shares.
“Growing up I never saw representation of myself, because my religion plays a big part of who I am,” Ali said.
Ali and Bakray were not only the stars of the film, but they had a ton of input on how the film was made. Some parts of Rocks were improvised by the actors, and it created some memorable moments for them. Ali and Bakray both agreed a scene where their characters get into a food fight while making malawax (Somali pancakes) is their favorite scene. Ali said there were no rules in that scene and recalls Bakray improvising and crying tears of joy.
“It was such a collaborative safe space when we could chip in our ideas,” said Ali.
Ali also helped contribute to the film in other ways, such as providing input on what the home of Sumaya, her character, should look like. Bakray said she enjoyed the moments everyone all came together during the breaks.
“You know when you're around good people and it feels so good? Yeah, those were like my favorite parts. It just made the whole experience so fun.”
Ali never expected Rocks to be a feature film that would end up in film festivals around the world. “I can't lie, I thought it was going to be on YouTube, 20 minutes long,” she said.
Neither did her costar. “I didn't think it was going to be like this,” Bakray said. “Like, I grew up watching BuzzFeed videos, I would've never thought I would now be doing an interview with BuzzFeed.”
Before Rocks, neither of the stars thought an acting career would be possible for them. Now their views on that have changed entirely. Bakray said she had dreamed of becoming an actor but always thought she would end up with a more conventional, safer career path.
“I feel like Rocks was just a profound part of my life because it taught me to be unruly,” she said. “It taught me to take risks like, yeah, to take risks, essentially. Because I didn't believe in taking risks, I believed in playing it safe.”
Ali said her siblings work in healthcare, and she always expected to follow in their more conventional footsteps.
“When Rocks came about it was crazy,” she said. “You know God’s plan is so different to your plan...so I feel like now I’m here and hopefully can do more acting and one day do writing and direct a few things.”
The two are hoping to start making more films. Bakray calls everyone she worked with on Rocks her “lovely family” who will always be there for her. “I know the industry can feel like the Atlantic Ocean, but I have this boat of women that I know I’m always going to have,” she said.
The film’s UK premiere was delayed due to COVID-19 safety measures, and the two have said that during this time they have been keeping themselves busy by watching more films than ever. Bakray said she has been writing and creating art, which Ali called amazing.
Ali said she has been skateboarding, watching Korean dramas, and is part of “film club,” something they created with the women from Rocks where they meet up once a week “to keep creative juices flowing."
Rocks is out in the UK and Ireland now. Find your nearest cinema here.