Cosplay Interview with Creator of #28DaysofBlackCosplay, Chaka Cumberbatch (Princess Mentality Cosplay)
As Black nerds, it’s important for us to see images of each other. Things are starting to get better, but we still have so few characters of color in our comics, video games, anime, manga and movies. It can be disheartening, never seeing anyone who looks like you in the media you love so much.
Chaka Cumberbatch is an inspiration to for many cosplayers. The implementation of the hashtag #28daysofblackcosplay inspired cosplayers of color to take pride in their work. The Arkansas native has been a cosplayer for close to 10 years. She has pushed herself physically, mentally, and gained a copious amount of opportunities. I am so happy we got the opportunity to interview her about her experiences as a cosplayer and her biggest challenges.
How did you get your start in cosplay? How long have you been cosplaying?
I started cosplaying at A-Kon in 2008. I made the trip down to Dallas from Little Rock with my college anime club, with just one costume in tow – Misa Amane from DeathNote. I had no idea how serious cosplay was at the time, and by the time the weekend was over, I was hooked. I was already scheming new cons to attend in the car on the way home, and I’ve never stopped attending cons since.
Do you feel that cosplay has impacted your life? If so, in what ways?
Cosplay has completely changed my life. Through cosplay, I’ve traveled to cities I might have otherwise never visited, and acquired skills I might have otherwise never attempted to learn. I’ve pushed myself physically and mentally, and I’ve gained a ridiculous amount of opportunities and friends. It’s been a completely magical ride – and I can honestly say my life wouldn’t be the same without cosplay.
What do you do when you aren’t cosplaying?
When I’m not cosplaying, I’m a Social Media Manager and a freelance journalist! I also love brunching every Sunday with my friends (Dallas Brunch is unparalleled), buying entirely too much makeup, reading comics, watching cartoons and mixing cocktails. I’m pretty much in love with my life, not gonna lie.
Which character is your absolute favorite to cosplay?
Sailor Venus is my favorite character of all time. I love her playfulness, loyalty and tenacity – I see so much of myself in her. The first time I put on that costume, it was like a dream coming true. I cried in my hotel room before going down to the con floor, because I simply could not believe it was happening. I honestly don’t think another costume will ever make me feel that way again.
What costumes have provided the biggest challenge and rewards so far and why?
Two costumes come to mind, actually. The first was my Princess Tiana ballgown – I’d never sewn a single stitch before attempting that costume, and did it all with the help of YouTube tutorials and the forums on Cosplay.com. The second was my Queen Akasha costume – mostly because of the beadwork and wirework involved with that headdress! Both costumes took three months to make each, and neither are perfect – but I’m incredibly proud of them both.
What has your experience been as a female cosplayer of color?
In person, the majority of my experiences have been positive. There’s nothing like the excitement and energy at a convention, especially on Day Zero and Day One. Everyone is so upbeat and inviting – the electricity in the air could power an entire neighborhood. The most negativity I’ve experienced has been online, mostly on anonymous forums where people don’t have to put their names or faces behind what they say…which is why I put very little stock in it, these days.
Have you received any criticism for doing what you do? What do you have to say to those critics?
Constantly. It started when my pictures began to circulate online, and continued when I started speaking up about it. People say I’m doing it for attention, doing it to “stay relevant,” doing it for whatever selfish reasons they imagine they would do it for themselves, I guess. The only thing I have to say to anyone who takes issue with my friends and I pushing for my diversity, equality and inclusion in cosplay is this: keep scrolling. Cosplay does not belong to you, and this is happening whether you like it or not. Everyone should be made to feel included, and I’m not going to stop trying to make that happen.
What do you think of the state of cosplay fandom right now? How do you think it can be better?
While I’m happy to see so many new people joining in, I do worry about this sudden race for cosplay popularity, and this desire to monetize the hobby that I’ve seen crop up in the past few years. Don’t get me wrong – do your thing, sell your wares, do what makes you happy! But I don’t think cosplayers need to put so much emphasis on popularity. I watch people stress themselves into the ground, and blow through so much money trying to show up in brand new costumes at every convention – and for what? If you’re not enjoying it, don’t do it. It’s a hobby, after all!
What is your advice to people who want to start cosplaying?
Don’t be scared off by horror stories you read online! The vast majority of my experiences at conventions over the past eight years have been amazing, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in this world. Cosplay has broadened my world and has allowed me opportunities that I might have never been afforded otherwise. Experience the magic for yourself!
Do you get to travel the country for different conventions? What shows can fans expect to see you at next?
I am really lucky that I’ve been ask to attend conventions across the country to speak about diversity and equality in cosplay. I hope to continue to do that as long as I am still needed. This year you can catch me at all the cons in Dallas, TX, and Anime St. Louis. I have a third convention planned for this year and I can’t wait to announce that as well!