Samir Sattar

Anxiety Rap – An Interview with the Director

Anxiety Rap is a short documentary following the lives of two young artists in an alternative hip-hop group called The Knighthood Society. It explores their experience struggling with social anxiety and gives an insight into the topic of mental health in today’s society.

This however, isn’t the full story as the film showcases how such young and vulnerable youth try to express their thoughts and feelings with a passion in creative arts and music.

Afshin Rohani is an independent filmmaker based in London who has a passion for telling short stories as well as a keen interest in the subject matter of social issues.

I had the chance to discuss with him not only the process of making the film, but also the plight of mental health at the moment in Britain, the impact of creative arts in expressing anxiety and people’s response to his interesting documentary.

In the search of finding something to cover surrounding social issues, a friend suggested Afshin to get in touch with Hackney hip-hop duo Henny and Nicki Knightz of The Knighthood Society.

Being into hip-hop music himself, Afshin realised in the process of talking and filming the young artists that there was indeed more to their story than just music.

“It became very clear that they also had a lot of layers behind them and I started to dig a bit,” he said. “When I met them, I learned more about the emotional and mental struggles and then I was just like ‘look, let’s talk about that rather than just the music’ and they agreed.

“They agreed straight away and we just kinda went from there really”.

In Anxiety Rap, both rappers discuss the struggles and hardships they’ve had to deal with from childhood up until now. And how their passion for music has given them a platform to express their emotions and embrace recovery.

Discussing the situation behind mental health in the UK, Afshin explained to me how it has become a crisis among young people but doesn’t stop at just one demographic.

“Mental health doesn’t discriminate; it affects everyone and the mental health services in the UK can’t really cope with the demand.

“This is really due to lots of different kind of factors, it’s not just support; some of it is cultural and there still is very much a stigma attached to it and the way we talk about it”.

He cited research conducted by the annual UK Youth Index which found out that young Britons have been more unhappy than ever before.

The index states that three in five young people feel stress regularly due to concerns over employability and finance while one in four feel ‘hopeless’ about their situation.

To further shed light into the matter, it was said that half of those who took part in the study had experienced mental health problems.

The film shows how The Knighthood Society use music as a path to recovery and Afshin believes that getting into arts and creativity helps in coping with anxiety.

“In terms of people finding a way to cope, I think that the arts and creativity has a role and if that is something that someone has already engaged with then I think that it’s amazing to see how the art can assist in that healing process”.

He told me how when researching for the project, a health professional told him that art therapy and encouraging people to express themselves certainly helps in the healing process.

However, this doesn’t simply resolve the situation as mental illness can persist and effect people at different points in their lives. As Afshin said in his own words, anxiety is “fluid”.

For The Knighthood Society, it was Nicki and Henny’s tight-knitted friendship and passion for music that really helped them through the recovery process.

When the documentary launched in 2017, Afshin mentioned how after one screening, viewers responded by opening up about their personal struggles with mental health.

“People came and shared their stories and they just said ‘I didn’t even know we could talk about it’ or ‘I’ve got a little sister struggling with us right now’, for example.

“I think they were just kinda taking it back because they didn’t realised that you can talk about it [anxiety] and it doesn’t have to be such an ugly word”.

When queried, he explained to me that the way mental health is perceived today is very specific in the media and he didn’t want to paint a picture of a certain demographic concerning the subject.

“As I said before, mental health doesn’t discriminate against. I wanted it to just be literally holding up a mirror to these guys’ lives.

“It really is a cross-cultural thing, a cross-caste thing and I think London right now is struggling with all kinds of things”.

One of the biggest concerns in London right now is crime and Afshin pointed out how policies in policing measures are being prioritised understandably.

However, he believes something needs to be done in helping young people with the environments that they live in whether at home or in school.

Anxiety Rap delves into the impact of social media among young people and how Nicki conducted a social experiment on Twitter to see what type of response she got from viewers.

With the documentary out for more than a year now, Anxiety Rap is a must-watch short film.

Afshin will be making more projects in the future surrounding social issues.

Source of Image: FilmFreeway

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