Welcome back to another Fake Geek Girls Like Us interview. Fake Geek Girls Like Us is a feature on +5 Charisma where I interview some awesome geeky and nerdy ladies out in the geek world. This month I get to chat with a new friend of mine, Chaka Cumberbatch, about Cosplay, Sailor Moon and the article I’m A Black Female Cosplayer and Some People Hate It.
1.Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m basically a purple haired, red lipped, #BlackGirlMagic combination of Buffy, Sailor Moon and Veronica Mars. I love cartoons, costumes, cocktails and cosmetics! At any given moment, I’m either scheming up a new cosplay, sipping mimosas while having impassioned nerd debates at brunch, reapplying my lipstick or watching Sailor Moon. Or I’m in a bubble bath. I’m usually in a bubble bath.
Chaka Cumberbatch as Female Captain America
2.What are you currently reading?
I’m getting married at the end of the year – so wedding blogs, mostly! But when I need a break from seating arrangements and invitation fonts, I’m reading Bitch Planet because Kelly Sue DeConnick is my religion. I’ve got Papergirls and Zodiac Starforce on my list as well because girl power, obviously.
3.When did you first realize that you may be considered a “nerd” or a “geek”?
I don’t know that I ever really realized that I might be a nerd or a geek – it was just something that was always there. I knew going to school that I enjoyed cartoons a little bit more than my friends did. I knew when it persisted through middle school, when other girls my age were getting into makeup and boys but I was writing Pokemon fanfiction and reading Harry Potter on the bus. I knew when it continued to persist into high school, when my non-nerd friends just smiled and nodded when I had to leave to go run the anime club I ran in the mornings before class. I knew when even in college, I refused to rush a sorority because it was “too expensive” but somehow always had money for manga and video games. It’s just something that’s always been a part of me. I knew it made me different. But I also knew it was something I was unwilling to compromise on.
4.Can you tell us about how did you got into cosplay?
I tell people I was kind of fated to wander my way into cosplay, having always been into costumes and cartoons – it was bound to happen. In high school, I did a lot of backstage costume work in between reading dog eared copies of my favorite manga, and always dreamed of attending my first convention in cosplay. I finally got my chance when I traveled with my college anime club to A-Kon in Spring 2008. I’ll never forget the first moment I walked into the hotel, felt the air buzzing with pre-con excitement and watched people walk around in full costume on day zero. It was like I instantly knew I’d found where I belonged. I can honestly say I’ve never been the same since.
Chaka Cumberbatch as Storm
So many of my formative cosplay experiences revolve around A-Kon, but again, I was at A-Kon, and I was wearing my Sailor Venus costume, which I had commissioned by an amazingly talented seamstress named Jessica Nova. I’m a lifelong, die hard, tattoo sporting Moonie, and I literally was beside myself with excitement all day long wearing that costume. I couldn’t wait to see pictures after the convention, and when I got them back from my photographer, I stuck one up on Facebook, used it as my profile picture for awhile, then pretty much moved onto the next costume. At the time, I thought “going viral” was something that only happened to cute kids on the way back from the dentist and cat videos. So it was a shock to find my pictures making the rounds online for years to come – and even more of a shock to read some of the nasty things people were saying about me in the costume.
Every time I look at the picture, I remember how deliriously happy I was at that con, in that costume, on that day – and it was just so disheartening to read the things people would say about me just because I was black. Like, did I miss the part where you can’t be black and identify deeply with Sailor Moon? I was finally inspired to write the article after deleting what felt like the 10,000th racist comment off of a picture I’d posted on my cosplay page. All I really wanted to do was express dismay at how I’d been feeling, and how I’d seen many of my black cosplay friends been treated as well. I had no clue it was going to take off the way that it did! The reaction to the article wasn’t always positive – my inbox was underwater for months – but the positive definitely outweighs the negative. If I convinced even just one black nerd to try cosplaying for the first time, it was completely worth it to me. Honestly? All I really want to do anymore is encourage black nerds to cosplay. It’s like my new vision quest or something.
6. What inspired you to create the hashtag #28daysofblackcosplay?
Similar to why I wrote my first article, I was frustrated at the way I watched the Internet turn into a battle ground every February for myself and my friends. Something about the concept of Black History Month makes people want to fight about whether or not diversity needs to be a thing, I don’t get it. But last year, I just remember standing in my kitchen one morning and thinking – why don’t we get ahead of it this year? Why don’t we start a positive movement to counteract all of the ugly that usually comes out of the woodwork this time of year? So I put a bunch of friends together in a group message, and started pooling together ideas. Once I got a schedule down, I started promoting the hashtag and sharing pictures of other cosplayers. Little did I know it would spread across the Internet like WILDFIRE.
7. Who are other cosplayers that you can suggest that we follow? Also, any blog or podcast recommendations?
So first of all, I have to give a shout out to Black Girl Nerds! My being a cohost on the podcast aside, it’s my favorite online destination for Black Nerds online. I also really love Black Nerd Problems – it’s hilarious. Also hilarious (though not necessarily AS nerdy) is Very Smart Brothas and Awesomely Luvvie – it just doesn’t get any blacker than that. Second of all, when it comes to supremely talented Black cosplayers, the first three people who come to mind are The Venus Noire, Maki Roll’s Chop Shop and Zero Suit Sami. These ladies are not only talented and smart, but sweet and personable as well. They truly do care about supporting Black Cosplay as a whole, and I have so much respect for them all, personally and professionally.
8. What are you favourite Cons to go to and why?
Dragon*Con is my absolute favorite convention of all time, because it’s ALL about the fans. There are some cons you’ll go to, and while they’re fun – you feel like you’re in a commercial. Everything’s got a brand on it, everyone’s competing for your wallet and your eyeballs. Not at Dragon*Con – it feels like a family reunion every year. I’m also a big fan of Geek Girl Con, because I LOVE their message, and NakaKon, which doesn’t get near the amount of attention it should for the work they do to create a safe, inclusive space for con-goers.
9. Who was the first female character that you can remember looking up to?
Sailor Moon. Hands down. I love her so much, because she proves to me that you don’t have to jeopardize your emotions, your humanity or your femininity to be strong. I would be a completely different person without the influence of Sailor Moon in my life, I can say that definitively. The series and the character have gotten me through so much.
10. Are there any movies or television shows that are coming out that you are looking forward to (near or distant future)?
YES. So, Sailor Moon Crystal Season 3, obviously. Like, first and foremost. But there’s also Deadpool, Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad, Orange Is The New Black season 4, The Flash, iZombie and Shameless. Shameless is underrated GOLD and more people need to be talking about it. Can I also take this opportunity to say that I am dying for more news on Pokemon GO as well? Because REALLY.
Thanks to Chaka for chatting with us! Make sure to check out her awesome cosplay Facebook. Thanks for tuning in! Fake Geek Girl Like Us is an interview series on +5 Charisma where we talk to girls in nerd culture. Email email@example.com if you would like to be featured!