Interview: Hashtag Creator on What #28DaysofBlackCosplay Means to the Community

It’s safe to say that the 28 Days of Black Cosplay movement is a steadfast staple of the cosplay community.

Focusing on visibility, representation and celebration, this yearly activation has drawn the attention of major media outlets, celebrities and cosplayers around the world.

We’re talking over 40K posts on Instagram alone, hundreds of thousands of views on TikTok, Facebook groups, news articles, spin-off hashtags and more. 

28 Days of Black Cosplay

We’re excited to participate on Instagram again and on TikTok for the first time, highlighting Black cosplayers for you to follow each day this month using #28DaysofBlackCosplay. As we head into this beautiful month-long celebration, it’s important to ask: How did it all start?

The answer: In 2015, next to a microwave. 

Well, there’s a little more to it. Gather ’round friends. Hashtag creator and semi-retired cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch-Tinsley (@princessology) took some time out from training Pokémon to share the origin and importance behind #28DaysofBlackCosplay

For any first-time cosplayers, can you give a brief background on when and how you started #28DaysofBlackCosplay?

Chaka: I was actually standing in my kitchen, waiting for my microwave to go off in early 2015 when the idea for #28DaysOfBlackCosplay came to me. Essentially, I’d been thinking about my friends and fellow Black cosplayers, and how the month of February had become something we’d started to dread online.

We’d spend hours arguing the validity and necessity of the month, while continuing to have our hard work and creativity fly under the radar. I wanted to flip the script, reclaim the conversation, and reposition February as a celebration of Black excellence and Black culture specific to cosplay. Black cosplayers are so closely woven and tight-knit—everyone knows everyone. So true to form, I started a group chat.

I pulled together every Black cosplayer I could think of, ran the concept by them, and we aligned on a schedule/cadence for amplifying each other’s work. Once aligning on the schedule, everyone filled out interview questions and submitted photos via our Facebook group, and each day, we’d use those questions and photos to post spotlights highlighting each other’s work on our cosplay Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and Twitter profiles.

It’s become such a tentpole for the cosplay community. Did you have any idea that it would gain this much momentum?

I definitely knew it’d be received well by our community, but never could have imagined it’d still be going strong six years later, or that it would have enjoyed the mainstream success it’s seen as the years have gone on.

I think it speaks to a need for more amplification and representation of diverse and marginalized voices within these subcultures. The media can be so quick to default to established beauty standards when looking for cosplayers to highlight—but there’s so much creativity, talent and skill within communities like ours.

When was the turning point for you, when you realized that this hashtag had truly taken off?

Honestly, it was really that first year. One thing about cosplayers: we’re always going to celebrate our own. That very first year, the hashtag was received so warmly, so enthusiastically and so roundedly, I almost didn’t know what to do. The mainstream attention was fantastic—we’ve had Ava DuVernay cite it as a hashtag she looks forward to every year, and it’s on Shonda Rhimes’ radar as well.

But for me, it was more about the community—my community, cosplayers. I truly feel that the success of the movement speaks to a need that had previously been going unfulfilled. It was made very clear very quickly that the community felt that this celebration was something we’d previously been lacking. I’ve been so honored over the years to watch similar and spinoff hashtags take off as well. 

Do you have any go-to creators or community voices that you’re excited to see participate?

SO many. If Xavier Woods ever jumped on the hashtag, I’m pretty sure I’d die on the spot. King Vader would be fun too! Like most people, I’m obsessed with Kiera Please. I’m a big fan of Miss Shellanin as well, same with Petit Ebby—who’s been an ongoing supporter of 28 Days over the years.

Even with celebrations like this tearing down the myth that Black cosplayers are rare, there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of how Black cosplayers are treated.

How have you seen the landscape change (or not change) for Black cosplayers over the years?

We’ve definitely seen a shift in a willingness to ensure Black cosplayers are being considered for hosting and presenting duties on topics outside of race and diversity.

That was a big issue in my era—we were only ever wanted for one thing, and while that topic is important to expound upon…it’s heavy, and isn’t all we want to talk about all the time. I’m always so thrilled to see a Black cosplayer or creator being tapped for a project where they’re allowed to just…be joyful.

June 2020 changed the landscape as well, but jury’s still out on whether those reactions will result in lasting, systemic change.

In the past, you’ve talked about visibility, representation and celebration being the core tenants of this hashtag. Could you expand on those a bit?

Visibility, Representation and Celebration have always been the backbone of this activation. For years, spotting another Black cosplayer in the wild was like seeing a unicorn. Everyone knew each other because our group was so small.

I’ve talked about this before, but one of my good friends started a thread back in 2004 that I followed years before I ever gathered the courage (or the funds) to begin cosplaying myself. I would never have known there were more like me, and may not have had the courage to join in if it weren’t for her.

My hope is that 28 Days will be for someone else what that thread was for me. My hope is that seeing themselves not only represented, but celebrated in a major way will inspire another Black nerd wondering if it’s “okay for Black people to cosplay” to feel welcome and encouraged.

I want us to understand that we are well within our rights to make noise, take up space, and exist prominently within this subculture. Most importantly, I want us all to know that Black excellence applies to anime/manga/video games as well.

With emerging platforms like TikTok, there’s a lot of younger cosplayers who might be learning about 28 Days of Black Cosplay for the first time. How can they participate?

Chaka: Use the hashtag! Create sounds! Challenge each other! Set Patreon tier awards themed around the month!

Being a social professional by day, I love watching new platforms and methods of sharing/engaging with content emerge on Social. Cosplay is one of the most inventive and savvy subcultures I know—we are early adopters. So I have full trust in the idea of cosplayers continuing to evolve the hashtag and their engagement with it along with the landscape.

Finally, what do you love most about it?

The fact that it enables me to root for everybody Black. Because I am rooting for everybody Black. Always.

Cosplayers, we’re so excited to see and celebrate your incredible work this month, and every month! See you online.