Right after Rocks, Theresa Ikoko dares you to say her tales are not feasible


f you want to remind you why we pay to sit in dark rooms with strangers, go and see Rocks. This effervescent coming-of-age tale about the eponymous British-Nigerian teenager and her Hackney schoolmates will make your coronary heart soar and make you happy of this city. Eventually in cinemas this week following its original launch day coincided with lockdown, it would have been easy to place it on a streaming system when all we had to entertain us were our televisions. But the film’s co-writer, playwright Theresa Ikoko, required youthful women of color to have the chance to see them selves on the big screen. “I felt like it was critical, because there is some thing about seeing on your own 20 foot tall. For so a lot of of us, we haven’t viewed ourselves on modest screens, allow by itself huge screens. It was critical to say, you are worthy of this huge monitor, you are worth having up these spaces — these posters, this popcorn.”

Thank God she listens to her voicemail. If she hadn’t, she might never have published just one of the very best movies of the 12 months. Born in Hackney, where by she nonetheless lives, she 1st begun creating scenes for plays into blank email messages during lull moments even though doing the job at Feltham Young Offenders Institution. With a masters in criminology, she was all established for a profession in felony justice plan — reading through the scenes in excess of the cellular phone to her pal in the evenings was just for pleasurable. But her friend insisted a lot more people today essential to hear what she was writing.

Ultimately they arrived across a free script reading service from Talawa, the UK’s main black theatre corporation. Practically nothing occurred for nine months, until eventually she received a phone from a landline amount and disregarded it. She then got an email which she considered was spam, so she deleted it. Lastly Michael Buffong, Talawa’s inventive director, acquired by means of to her on voicemail and said he preferred to set on her debut engage in, Standard, which was staged in 2014. “I did not know that would type of alter every little thing. I saved inquiring him in the course of the method, ‘so, who cancelled? Who dropped out? How did I close up listed here?’ And he was like, ‘No, you’re intended to be right here — I feel in you’.” A later play, Ladies, a co-generation with Soho Theatre and HighTide, won quite a few awards in 2016.

There’s a sunflower up coming to Ikoko in her flat as we discuss over Zoom — it feels apt offered the pleasure at the coronary heart of Rocks. She had created the tale, about a teenager battling with surprising responsibilities (performed by remarkable newcomer Bukky Bakray), as a tribute to her sister Tracey. Ikoko is just one of 9 siblings and has five sisters — “I feel like this film has created it really crystal clear who my favorite is,” she laughs. Her mum is retired and her father, like Rocks’, has passed away. “She’s incredibly tough and robust in the way that Rocks is, and that so many black and brown girls are, who have to put on this armour to protect and preserve the childhoods of their siblings, in a way that can harden them,” Ikoko claims. “So it is genuinely just an ode to them, to say that beneath the armour, that the bus driver or the trainer or your do the job colleagues really do not see, I see the pleasure and the enjoy and the infinite effectively of sophisticated softness in you, and I want to say thank you and I really like you, that I see you and that is valid and deserving of praise.”

The film’s casting system ended up creating its possess local community. The all-female resourceful staff preferred to make a film about British young adults with young people — so they went into colleges and chosen a team of younger girls, who experienced no prior acting encounter, to do workshops with in excess of the training course of 9 months. Genuine friendships began to variety involving the solid, so by the time Ikoko and her co-writer Claire Wilson commenced writing the script, “we experienced been contaminated with their magic.” The resulting film, she suggests, is “a present from women to gals.”

Ikoko no more time believes her tales are not practical — a phrase she’s heard generally in the marketplace as a cause not to make movies like Rocks. She remembers staying blown absent by a Saturday matinee of the film at Toronto Film Pageant, populated by an elderly white audience who liked the film so a lot they desired to inform her how it reminded them of their grandchildren, or staying a instructor, or the seem of their street when they opened their windows.

“I’d been persuaded by the gatekeepers and commissioners that there was no universality in my story, that in get to tell it I had to find an audience that appeared like me. I’m aggravated at myself that I at any time authorized myself to believe that it,” she say. “So now I dare anybody to convey to me these tales are not feasible, because I’ve acquired ten aged white men and women in Toronto that will convey to you they will view a tale about a 15 calendar year old black youngsters in Hackney.”

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She describes the movie as a “love letter to London” and “not just the Notting Hill parts”. It created her tear up viewing a scene wherever Rocks wander via Dalston Market place — not just Dalston, but “my Dalston”. It was the to start with location Ikoko ever received missing as a child, and there it all was on display: the woman getting plantain, checking the ripeness of the yam although youngsters dance close to her.

It is also a chance to go beyond talking about black lives as a monolith, and winner black British culture. This is a little something that Ikoko is passionate about and demonstrates on deeply and articulately. She’s proud to be a black British Londoner, enjoys the amalgamation of languages — white and black mates weaving pidgin English and patois into their vocabulary — but also feels that the community is normally still left out of the conversation about what it indicates to be British. “A whole lot of us are truly very pleased, and it’s the only identity we have. My very first time back again in Africa was this year (she invested some of lockdown in Nigeria), so a large amount of us never have a relationship to any other black lifestyle exterior of what we know,” she says. “The threads we have sewn into the material of Britishness are valid and the photograph of Britain would be incomplete without having them.”

She has a ton coming up for someone who only not long ago started off imagining of herself as a author, like a new engage in and a couple of Tv assignments. Her theatre function served open doorways. Although she’s fearful the industry’s recent disaster will effect compact firms that give prospects to “people like me, who pronounce theatre with an ‘f’ instead of a ‘th’”, she’s also hopeful that meaningful conversations are taking place, that “people who are climbing up and talking up” are getting listened to. ”Whether it be the youthful girls in Rocks, individuals like Rachel Delahay, or Sarah Gavron (Rocks’ director) who step apart and insist on doing matters better. And I keep that responsibility to myself — if we’re heading to go as a result of doors, let’s hold doors open up driving us.”

Rocks is produced in cinemas on September 18. UPDATE: Rocks is now offered to check out on Netflix