Making Black History: 28 Days of Black Cosplay w/ Chaka Cumberbatch

To close out our Black History month celebration at Crystal Dynamics, I (Vanessa again!) had the pleasure and honor to have a one-on-one conversation with the creator of 28 Days of Black Cosplay, Chaka Cumberbatch! She has been a beacon and pillar to the Black community, creating a movement that was born from a need for better representation, and eight years later has grown into one of the most well-known and anticipated geek-culture events of the Black History season. We discussed what BHM and #28DaysOfBlackCosplay meant to her, how it’s changed over time, and what she hopes to see in the future of fandoms. Check out our interview below!

Vanessa: What does BHM mean to you?
Chaka: The visibility.  We are so much more than just our pain.  When people reach out to me wanting to talk about 28 Days and focus on how hard it was, or why it’s a challenge, I don’t engage in it anymore because I want to focus on our joy.  BHM growing up used to be a series of book reports, speeches, documentaries, but it was never an event or occasion.  We never learned about culture, or art, or music, or design.  Growing up we focused on the history, and now it’s much more joyous, more of a celebration! Now: it’s a very mainstream thing to do, you can say ‘I cosplay, yea I’m a cosplayer’. And it’s all about the core community, and about making the space to celebrate us. I was at the Grammys a couple weeks ago, we watched Samara Joy win Best New Artist, she gorgeous, extremely talented, a wonderful jazz artist, and also a dark skinned woman, and I remember being back stage with some team members and just seeing her entire face light up, like she was just glowing! I just don’t—-I don’t think people know or understand what it means to earnestly see yourself winning.

Vanessa: What was fandom like growing up for you?
Chaka: Growing up anime and cartoons we didn’t see ourselves often…. with like Rugrats everyone wanted to be Suzy, or we all kind of quietly agreed Piccolo was Black, but now you see Black dolls and Black models, actual Black toys. We didn’t see a lot of ourselves, or we saw something that was close but not quite the same, you know?  We didn’t have a lot of characters to pull from so we did what we could.

chakala cumberbatch

Vanessa: What are the ways you have loved seeing fandoms transform and grow?
Chaka: I see people now working all year working on costumes for 28 days and planning out all of their characters.  And even when the character isn’t Black they’re still doing all they can.  Seeing more diversity in the fandom has been crazy, seeing the TikToks, the pictures, the tweets, all of it-it’s so many amazing things being done! But we also have more representation, more options, more people that we can cosplay as, so we’ve got a lot more to work with and representation has come a long way.

Vanessa: What about 28 Days of Black Cosplay continues to inspire you?
Chaka: Its never been about me specifically; even when I started it I went to my friends and said ‘I want something to celebrate us’.  It was always about the community and never about me or anything I wanted from it. I look now at all the content being made from 28 Days and it’s AMAZING.  Have you seen some of the transformation TikToks? Or some of the EDITS?  The talent on display is absolutely WILD! And this stuff is more mainstream now- its getting there that Black cosplayers are embraced and celebrated.  All the people who are participating and posting are just, absolutely stunning and talented. And seeing celebrities share and embrace it too has been so heartwarming.  I was once asked ‘how do you feel knowing that Ava DuVernay shared 28 Days of Cosplay, saying this was her favorite time of year’ and I still just have… words!

Vanessa: At 8 years of #28DaysOfBlackCosplay, what are you hoping to see next?
Chaka: I always wanted it to be bigger than me and it was always something I wanted to see pushed.  It used to be that months in advance I would have to reach out to companies, reach out to brands to get it to work, but now it’s exactly where it needs to be. Watching the way it has evolved and the way the community has embraced it, it’s a FUBU moment. It grows more and more every year, and the talent just keeps getting more and more impressive.  I ended up taking a step back; I’m in the industry now, so I don’t really have the schedule or the space to do all the reach outs, all the branding, and everything else-but the community has really grown it into something special. The community has taken it on as their own thing, and now brands reach out to me!

Vanessa: What are some of your favorite cosplays that you’ve done?
Chaka: Honestly? In 2012: I made the Princess Tiana ball grown from Princess and the Frog-I had never sewn a dress, I literally had no idea what I was doing.  It took me months!  I made a bootleg form in my living room, I looked up a bunch of stuff, I was lost, I had never done it, but since it was the first time I saw myself as a Disney Princess I had to do it!  I’m not a big Disney person, or not a Disney adult, but I will watch and love the princess movies, and this was my chance to make a princess that looked like me-before I had to kind of go with the closest thing which, as a WoC, was going to be Mulan or Pocahontas. Making that cosplay, for me, was such a triumph, and I still have it!  It goes back to that piece for representation-the way I see Black people JUMPING at the chance to cosplay characters that look like them and getting a chance to really express themselves and show love and tribute to a game, or an anime, or a character in the highest form. And that’s the thing-we see so much MORE of that now.  We see more of us in the spaces not just via the cosplay, but as a part of the show, a part of the space, and something the next generation of Black creatives can look up to.

With Chaka’s interview and delightful insights into #28DaysofBlackCosplay, this brings the Crystal Dynamics Black History Month Celebration to a close! We hope the community enjoyed the content we put out, found some great insights with out Black Excellence blog, enjoyed the panel held on Black Joy that, if you missed you can catch it here:

Our charity fundraiser for Black Girls Code with, an original goal of $5,000 is currently at an amazing $7,600! We will be keeping the fundraiser open until this Friday, and you can still donate using this link. Can we get to $8,000 by the end of this week?  I believe we can!

The talented QueenBeanie’s original character “Tania” and emotes are going to remain available for you to download and use in your Discord channels, Twitch channels, and wherever you fancy! You can still download them here!


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