I love cosplay with all my heart. That's why I've become absolutely obsessed with photographing cosplayers and showing them in the best light possible. To me, cosplay is one of the coolest forms of self-expression and love for a character. The amount of work that people put into their cosplay absolutely blows my mind. The reception to someone pulling off a great cosplay is, typically, an outpouring of love and support. That's what I dig about the cosplay community, to be honest. I re-entered the world of cosplay and conventions with the idea in my head that we're all nerds and we're all here to have a good time.
I still want to believe that, although the deeper I get into the community the more I see the parts that aren't sunshine and rainbows. It would be silly to think that that side didn't exist, but the extent of hatred and vitriol that stir up honestly surprised me.
This was no more evident than in the case of cosplayer Victory Cosplay. My first encounter with her was when John Boyega himself responded positively to her genderbent Finn cosplay. It was a good time.
This time, it's about a different cosplay entirely.
The two us sat down and talked about the first time she decided to cosplay #Overwatch and don D.Va.
I had to start light. I didn't have it in me to just dive into the conversation right away. Instead, I circled around it by first asking why she even got into cosplay in the first place.
"My friend from college told me I should dress up with her for this event that's on Halloween day.
And I researched the character bought some I'll fitting looking clothes on eBay and dressed up for the first time
Halloween was my favorite holiday so I was highly interested."
Her first ever convention was Youmacon and it was full steam ahead from there.
"It was a whole new world. Everyone was in costume goofing off expressing themselves.
Everyone was kind to me and seeing everyone dressing up was so inspiring."
What Was Different?
Knowing what she went through when she donned D.Va, I had wondered if that was always the case. I couldn't help but ask if people had always looked at her differently when she went to conventions in cosplay. It wasn't much of a problem in the beginning when she could simply fade into the background. However, that began to change was her social media presence got a little bit more traction.
"I felt like. I was being looked at differently when people started to know who I was. I became more active in cosplay and started being showcased on fan pages. That's when I noticed the division in how some people could look at me. When I was in the background no one noticed but when I started being put on display..."
"Well.. then everyone noticed."
When you do something creative, a part of you knows that not everyone is going to like your stuff. That part is reconcilable for most creatives and they just power through it anyway knowing that what they're doing is what they love. Victory approached things similarly and just went about her business.
But the negatives absolutely surprised me. The worst of it is that it wasn't about cosplay at all. Not really.
The D.Va Incident
When Victory Cosplay decided that she was going to cosplay as D.Va, she knew that there might be some who wouldn't take to it well. You can't please everybody, of course. But the backlash that she received was beyond what she expected.
"Honestly I had a feeling but didn't expect it to be as intense I had negative back lash as Wonder Woman and Leia once. People telling me I dirtied the character or ruined their favorite. But nothing like D.Va."
"It kept going. It was a sea of n-words.'"
"[ Words like ] Ape, kill yourself. It got so out of hand it shell shocked me. I would keep banning people off my pages. They would share the picture to insult me anyway and there would be nothing I can do."
"It made me so upset so angry that so many people would hate me. Everywhere I got shared it was a sea of hate and people telling me how disgusting I was for being black and ruining D.Va.
It went on for three weeks straight. I didn't even want to check my pages anymore.
Being harassed constantly in different groups and messages telling me to kill myself and it would be honestly better if I did. I wanted to quit cosplay, I never wanted to be D.Va again. I was so shell shocked that something I was so excited and thrilled to do was clouded by such judgement and unfairness just because I'm black."
The first time she cosplayed D.Va was when the game was still pretty fresh. The pattern for D.Va's suit was still pretty hard to find so she was understandably excited to wear it.
"I thought people would love seeing a black cosplayer shine for once but I got the exact opposite. Instead it was "N.ga, N.udu, nice Lucio cosplay, nice Winston. Why didn't she just do Symmetra instead of ruining D.va? N-words ruining good characters. She should have bleached her skin that way I'd be accurate.""
Getting Back On the Mech
Despite the seemingly unrelenting torrent of hate, Victory Cosplay kept going. It would be understandable for her to completely dip out of the cosplay scene entirely, but she didn't. Her reasoning was pretty simple.
"Through the cloud of hate there were people there telling to me push forward. If I just gave up and never did D.Va again, there wouldn't have been as many D.Va cosplayers as there is now that were black.
And by no means do I mean that in a narcissistic way. I'm saying it as there were so many black girls who wanted to do D.Va but when they saw the backlash I got it literally discouraged them. Multiple people would make a post about it, but give up on the idea.
It was so much second guessing but I did D.Va anyway. I kept bringing her to cons, I kept taking photos and smiling. Mainly to piss off racists.
And eventually I started seeing more D.Vas"
During her recent visit to Momocon in Atlanta, Georgia, she saw three black cosplayers dressed up as D.Va. One of them openly admitted that she was inspired by Victory to cosplay as D.Va.
To expand on that, anyone can cosplay anything. At least anyone should be able to cosplay anything. It's unfortunate that that's not the case.
To say that my conversation with Victory Cosplay was eye opening was an understatement. I'm glad that she kept going. At the end of the day, we're all in this to have fun.
I just wish more people got that.