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Socializing as an Autistic Artist

Socializing as an Autistic Artist

I didn’t need people to become my best friend, but I wanted to feel a part of things.

Jennifer Msumba

A movie theater sign trimmed with lights that says "The 30th Annual Florida Film Festival" There is a night sky behind the sign and also an oak tree branch.
30th annual Florida Film Festival sign at the Enzian theater in Orlando, Florida

Let’s face it, we can’t spend our whole lives hiding. I mean, technically maybe we could, but it wouldn’t be much of a life. And if you aspire to be a professional artist- whether that be a musician, filmmaker, writer, designer etc, eventually you are going to have to get out there and meet people.

Brown skinned woman with curly brown hair stands in front of a group of reporters who are facing the other way.
Standing in front of the Enzian theater while actor John Amos is being interviewed

This week I had both ups and downs when it came to socializing. One of my films, The Fish Don’t Care When It Rains, is playing at the Florida Film Festival which is an Academy Award qualifying festival. So naturally I really wanted to fit in and maybe meet some other filmmakers and make the best of this special experience. But as soon as I arrived I felt completely out of place. Many of the women were wearing dresses or fancy clothes and I was in shorts and a t-shirt…ugh. There was a bar, and bartenders were asking if I wanted to try this or that drink…I wasn’t sure how to respond because I thought I was insulting them by saying no thank you. Also, nobody spoke to me otherwise.

Well, I take that back. The organizer of the festival did recognize me and he was very friendly to me, but he was also very busy so I didn’t get to speak to him for long. So I wandered around the outdoor party, desperately trying to make a connection but failing. 

Jennifer’s video diary from day one of the film festival

Then two musicians showed up to play as entertainment. My people! I asked them about their equipment as they were setting up. Things I knew about- guitar pedals, amps and lights. I think I slightly annoyed them but they were gracious and talked to me as they were busy getting their set ready. Then I hung out near the stage and listened to them play all night. The music put me at ease. This is how I survived night one.

Two men with long hair standing on a small stage outside and playing electric guitars. One is wearing glasses. They have an open guitar case in front of them to collect tips.
The Free Whiskey Band performs at the 30th annual Florida Film Festival

Night two came and I was determined to make some connections. I didn’t need people to become my best friend, but I wanted to feel a part of things. After all, I was a filmmaker just like them and I was part of the festival too. I wanted to have an experience and enjoy it. Also, this was the night my film was actually screening and people were going to watch it in the theater. I was nervous. Would they enjoy my film? Would they whisper to each other about how bad it was? I had no idea. 

Then, as I roamed the outdoor get-together yet again, someone called out to me. It was the director of the other film that was screening with mine! He was super friendly and we talked small talk, which I am pretty good at these days even though I do not enjoy it. But I wanted to make a connection so I did it. 

Soon after that meeting. A woman called out to me by name. She said, I’ve been wanting to meet you, I am excited to see your film tonight. She asked if she could take a picture with me. Things were looking up! Suddenly people were coming up to me and telling me they were excited to see my film. I was surrounded. I got a bit overwhelmed and had to step away for a moment. Then it was time to enter the theater.

Jennifer’s video diary from day two of the film festival

We had special VIP seats saved for us which was wild. This was my big day! When it was time to start the films, I went up on the stage in front of the whole theater and introduced my film. Yes I was nervous but I also wanted to enjoy this moment and be professional. I made my introduction and everybody applauded. What a change from day one. I was so glad that I stuck in there and didn’t give up after my first day at the festival.

I have learned a lot in the last couple years of my life as an artist. It is that everyone has insecurities, whether they are on the autism spectrum or not. A lot of people get nervous in social situations or have low confidence. And even when people look on the outside like they have it all figured out…they don’t. I think it’s just harder to hide the awkwardness as an autistic person sometimes. 

Jennifer Msumba introducing her film The Fish Don’t Care When It Rains at the Florida Film Festival

I just don’t want to miss out on life anymore. I spent most of my life hiding from situations where I might become embarrassed or lose or not know what to say. But I started to realize that if I hide, I will miss out on a beautiful life. Life is not going to wait for you or change to make it easier. Life is hard, but it can be wonderful.

I encourage all autistic artists who want to pursue their dreams to really get out there and enter festivals or contests or take a class or whatever it is you need to further your career and interests. You never know who you might meet along the way or what you will learn. 

I will find out this Saturday if my film won any awards. But I have already defeated my insecurities about attending the festival and that is a win in my book. 

Follow Jennifer on Instagram: @jennifermsumba

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