Documentary on being ‘Black, British and Autistic’ – by Writer / Director Tee Cee – Streaming on discovery+
By Talisha Cree
Hi my name is Tee Cee and I am autistic… is not a sentence I ever pictured me writing or saying aloud, but here we are.
Think of everything you ever thought about autism… now it’s hard for most to fathom that a black, female and high-functioning TV Producer, Presenter, Writer-Director and Author like ME could possibly be on the spectrum.
First things first, autistic people are not a monolith.
I was diagnosed with autism at 27-years-old and getting the diagnosis made me pay attention to the lack of research, resources and support for black autistic people. I also became aware of the disparities black autistics face in receiving late diagnosis in comparison to Caucasian people. Then it made me analyse the industry I work in and realise the lack of representation black autistic people have on TV and in the media. When it comes to programming on the topic of autism it’s usually a white male face and on the very rare opportunity that female autistics are highlighted they are majority white female faces.
At that moment, my idea for a short documentary Too Autistic For Black was born.
I wanted to highlight the experiences of what it’s like to be black, British and marginalised in the autism discourse as well as celebrating black, autistic lives… celebration was particularly a fundamental element in my story-telling because sometimes the media feeds off trauma porn and the black struggle, which perpetuate single narratives and stereotypes.
Not only was making this film such a monumental career milestone but it was a personal breakthrough. For the first time, I was publicly revealing that I have autism and it was liberating to take off this mask of public facing perfectionism that I wore for YEARS. It was positively surreal to meet other black, autistic people for the first time in my life and connect through our shared experiences and cultural similarities. I finally felt I was amongst people who didn’t require any explanation of me, I could just simply be.
Too Autistic For Black is a letter to autism where I address my personal experiences of growing up, navigating my career and relationships and challenging the powers that be as well as society at large to recognise the disparities that black autistic people face. My aim is for the film to be a conversation starter, encouraging institutions, research and policies to better cater for, reflect and take into account our distinctive experiences and cultural differences.
Being of Jamaican heritage, I also want to encourage African and Caribbean communities to look inwards and check some of their own behaviours when it comes to how neurodiversity is addressed. From personal experiences, topics like mental health and neurodiversity tend to be swept under the carpet, dismissed as anti-blackness or even reduced to insensitive responses i.e. “just pray it away.” If Jesus wept, there’s nothing unholy about individuals who navigate the world as we know it from a different perspective.
We talk about this buzz word diversity which tends to focus on the physical or more obvious aspects of a person e.g. gender, race and visible disability… Hence why it’s easy to miss and overlook diversity of thought, the way different people think, how they process information and
the unique viewpoint they have. In my opinion, variation of mindsets is truly what makes the world go round.
I’ve spent the last 27 years of my life trying to master society’s “normal”, but my career as a Development Producer in TV has given me an escapism. I have mainly worked in development for the last six years of my TV career. which is all about coming up with ideas and concepts for TV and digital shows and pitching them to various broadcasters and commissioners. It’s been a great way to express my unconventional perspectives and fresh insights. I also have a short attention span so working in development where no day is ever the same with new briefs, new talent, new trends and even working with lots of different professionals keeps it interesting and exciting.
Where it gets difficult for me is that the typical 9 am – 6 pm corporate working day doesn’t work for me at all, my brain my default switches off from about 3 pm. I get tired and restless and often need to take a 20 minute power nap during the day just to keep concentration. Focusing on a screen or even in a meeting for a long period of time is extremely difficult and exhausting for me unless I’m physically doing something that forces me to stay awake. This is where working in front of the camera as a TV Presenter has worked for me in ways that working behind the camera doesn’t.
In all honesty, lockdown was one of the best things to happen for me. I loved working from home and not having to think about forced social interactions, sensory overload from artificial office lights which often gave me migraine, being overwhelmed by smells or poor hygiene from others, being able to use my own home bathroom… even something as seemingly insignificant as someone sitting in my office chair would upset me at work so being at home in my own chair was very satisfying.
I often had to move places in the office because working in the same spot all day was tedious, I would sometimes use lunch breaks to sit in the dark and close my eyes because of fatigue or have a cry due to sensory overload and being overwhelmed. Working from home meant I didn’t have to mask or explain these aspects of myself, I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I was deemed anti-social for working with earphones in because happy jazz music helps me to focus, not wanting to have lunch with my work colleagues or go for team drinks after work or feeling pressured into exchanging information about my life for sake of fitting in.
Earphones have been my best friend working in TV development, sometimes I have to tune people and conversations out for my sanity. Pre covid I always sanitised my desk and chair and now extremely relieved that this has become common practice when working in an office environment. I’ve previously tried to work in 90 minute bursts with a 10 minute break to get up and stretch my legs, use the toilet or make a drink and although I don’t always stick to this it’s still a work style I advocate for. I also cope in an office environment by trying to be on the least crowded desk or cracking windows open where possible. People sneezing and coughing around me gives me anxiety so I have to know that some kind of fresh ventilation is filling the room.
Previously, most people would have put this down to being over the top, a little OCD or a bit weird… and maybe it’s all three, but being autistic heightens every element of my life in ways
that others don’t think about or deal with on a daily basis… So being told ‘we’re all a little autistic’’ or ‘you don’t look autistic’ is insulting and trivialises my experiences.
TV / digital media culture is a powerful influencer. One that I do not take lightly. I feel privileged to represent a minority community within a minority community, both behind and in front of the camera and I aim to continue to advocate for more black and autistic representation on and off screen.
It’s important to remember that being on the autism spectrum is literally a SPECTRUM. Not all autistic people will fit your personal and societal narrative of how an autistic person should look and behave. But, if you’re okay to accept the fictional characters Wednesday Addams and Sheldon Cooper then you need to be okay with ME.
My children’s book ‘Snow Black the Seven Rastas & Other Short Stories’ is out NOW –
The Art of Autism is taking submissions (art work, blogs, poetry) for Black History Month (February). Do you have a noteworthy person to add to our list of 30 Black Autistic People You May Want to Know? Email email@example.com