Interview with Chaka Cumberbatch, Cosplayer Extraordinaire
Interview with Chaka Cumberbatch,
Interview by Sabrina Taylor
OK everyone, let’s be frank. I’ve been told enough times in my life that I’m “unique” that I suspect there’s some truth to that statement. I’m a black girl from Iowa who loves anime, LOTS of anime, and read comics when she should be studying. Or writing an article. But I digress…
I honestly cannot remember how I first heard of Chaka Cumberbatch. I just know that I was so excited, I broke almost all of my “socially awkward geek” tendencies to just talk to her. I had to know she was real! A women of color who likes anime, works for a “geek” company and understands the horrors of getting a hotel room at San Diego Comic-Con. I was just so overjoyed! I know, I know. I’m aware that it sounds like I was probably a little too excited. Luckily, she was kind enough to return my nerdiness with her fantastic brand of awesomeness that I have seen her spread around conventions and the fandom community at large – a genuine mix of down-to-earth sense, sprinkled with fake zombie blood (she’s a fan of The Walking Dead) and blended with the same enthusiasm a lot of us have when your or I get to talk about comics with other geeks on “New Comic Book Day” (aka, Wednesday.)
Chaka will taking part of the festivities during the third annual GeekGirlCon – a celebration of women in all things geek related, which will be held this weekend in Seattle, WA. She will be a featured panelist on panels that range from highlighting the issues women of color face in the cosplay community to an introduction into what cosplay actually is – and what it’s not.
Luckily for me (and you), Chaka was kind enough to reply to my questions while running the internet from her fortress of doom:
How did you get into cosplay?
I kind of feel like it was destiny, honestly. I was always really into comics, anime, video games and cartoons – and I was also really into theater and costumes. The first time I head about cosplay, I knew it was something I was going to be interested in. I grew up in a very strict Christian household and was not allowed to celebrate Halloween for years. So of course, the first thing I did upon moving out was basically start celebrating Halloween all year round! I absolutely love costumes. I love makeup – normal makeup, costume makeup, zombie makeup, I love it all. The transformational aspect of it has just always really appealed to me.
I’ve heard you talk about how you got into anime and how people treated you for being a person of color who is into Japanese pop culture – What advice do you have for girls, or guys who might be in a similar situation?
The types of people that would pick on you for being into geekery are the types of people who are going to pick on you no matter what you’re into – nothing you do will ever be good enough for them. They’ve already decided they don’t like you, don’t waste your energy trying to impress them or win them over. The only thing you need to be concerned about is making yourself happy – trust me.
We both are familiar with being the only person of color at geek event, how do you deal with that and do you see that changing in the future?
I’d love to see it change. I’d love to see more diversity at cons, in comic book stores, and at video game tournaments. Sometimes, you’ll run into some tokenism, or people will start to get a little too comfortable with you – and it’s always painfully awkward because then it’s like you’re forced to walk this tightrope between sticking up for yourself and forcing the group to have an uncomfortable conversation about race, stereotypes, and why the things they’re saying are problematic. I’ve had times when I was hanging out with a group that was predominately male, that I was accused of “playing the race card,” “overreacting” or “taking things too seriously,” but I’ve honestly just gotten to the ornery old age of 26 where I’m fed up with trying not to rock the boat, and making sure everyone is comfortable at my expense. If I don’t like the way I’m being treated, I say so. If a friend, or a group of friends has a problem with that, then maybe they aren’t the types of friends I need to be surrounding myself with after all. It sounds like a kind of heavy handed approach, but life is too short for shenanigans. It really is.
In your article on XOJane.com, you mentioned the late comic writer, Dwanye McDuffie, and it made me smile even more about what you had to say. What do you think needs to happen in order for there to be more “Dwanye McDuffies’ ” in creative companies?
I think we need to be more open to and accepting of seeing faces of color in our media. I bring this up a lot, but when my friend and fellow cosplayer Jay Justice entered a DC Comics cosplay contest recently as Nubia, the way people recoiled at the idea of a black Wonder Woman was horrifying, disheartening and another example of how far we still have to go.
Who is your geek role model?
Aisha Tyler, Issa Rae, Felicia Day and Gail Simone are my geek girl role models! I love the way they break boundaries and work tirelessly each day to help establish a space for women within the geek world.
Finally, I saved the most important question for last: Naruto or Sasuke? 🙂
Neither. I’m a 90′s kid – Dragonball Z all the way!
So there you have it! I’m so excited about GeekGirlCon this weekend and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about the panels that I’ll be trying to cover for those of you who unable to attend. It’s only a few days away… Wait. It’s only a few days away! And now I’m even more excited!
Thank you to Chaka for answering my questions. Thanks to you for reading my writing. I’ll be back next week with another interview!
This post first appeared on Sabrina’s blog Multicolored Glitter and Robots. Stay tuned for more posts by Sabrina