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Cheyenne Ewulu on ‘Shades of Cosplay’ and Artistic Expression

Creating an influential and resonating documentary that digs into the heart of cosplay and Geekdom from a Black perspective as her first film wasn’t exactly Cheyenne Ewulu’s plan to begin with. What was supposed to be more of an artistic catharsis to express the frustration with racism and lack of awareness she noticed in the community she called home, became a beacon for Black cosplayers to find hope and admiration in their work.

Now that her celebrated documentary, Shades of Cosplay, has been officially released, we were able to sit down with Cheyenne about her journey in making the documentary, how her life has been changed since making it, and her thoughts of Black nerd culture years later. 

Thank you for speaking with The Nerds of Color. If you could just introduce yourself real quick…

My name is Cheyenne Ewulu, and I am an entertainment host within the geek space as well as a filmmaker, actress and content creator all around. 

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff.

That is a lot of stuff. [Laughs] I did an interview the other day and somebody was like, oh, multi hyphenated. And I was like, geez, okay, kind of embarrassing, but yeah, I take pride in the fact that I do a lot of stuff because I just have a lot of interest.

I looked into you after watching the documentary, and yeah, you do have a lot of interests that at a glance could feel distant from each other. But in reality they’re all connected in a lot of ways. So what made you decide to start making content on the internet?

I had always just wanted to. I was a theater kid and so I had always just wanted to find an outlet for myself to just express myself. I know, everybody says that, but it’s true. So eventually, I just started creating the kind of content that I personally wanted to see. Like, I was really heavy into Korean pop music at one point in college so I became a Korean pop YouTuber at one point, because I didn’t really see a lot of Black girls who were doing it. And then eventually I moved on to other things on other platforms. I had a YouTube channel with two other girls at one point where we just talked about nerd stuff. I think that’s where I really felt like I found my niche because I was like, whoa, I’m a nerd. And I was seeing a kind of like a lack of representation for women that look like me within the nerd space. This was 2014-2015. So now Now I see a whole community of Black women, thankfully on YouTube now doing that stuff. But back then I didn’t feel like I saw anybody that looked like me and if they did look like me, they were men. So that’s when I really feel like I found my my little niche and since then, I’ve just been making nerd content and trying to build a career of being the nerdy me than I am.

Is this around the same time you started doing cosplay as well? Or was that prior to this?

That was that was around the same time I started doing cosplay as well. So I was a heavy cosplayer in 2014, 2015, 2016. Eventually gave it up coz it was a little bit too expensive for me and I wanted to pursue other ventures. But it was fun. My first cosplay I think was my first cosplay I created was Korra, was her first look from book one.

So you started cosplaying around that time. I was a nerd and a theater kid around that same time but I didn’t really know there was a space for people who look like us to do cosplay. So I never really, like, approached it. The documentary itself is takes place the year right before Trump. So what made what made you decide to start the documentary? 

Yeah. So around that time my friend group was heavily of Black women that cosplayed and I just noticed that we were treated a little bit more a little differently within the community. Like I remember one guy came up to me at was in San Japan one year while I was dressed as Korra, her book two outfit, and he was just like, “oh, you look great as Korra — a little bit too dark, but like, you know, if you were a little lighter, you’d look just like her” and I was like, are people really this bold? I went off on him, but I thought if people are so okay and comfortable to say this to someone in person what are they saying online? Because, I had a lot of friends at the time who were heavy cosplayers who were Black woman who got a lot of hate online and when we speak out about this — not even just in the cosplay community, but in the geek community, it’s like, “oh, you’re lying” or “oh, this doesn’t really happen” and it’s just like, okay, this is going on, and happening to all of these people and they’re not even connected in any way. You can’t deny that, you know? This kind of stuff happens. So, I really wanted to give an outlet to people within the cosplay community to be able to speak their piece and give their stories and show this is a problem, but here are maybe some solutions. I also really thought it was important to not to make the viewer feel defeated. really wanted there to be some kind of some kind of hope, some kind of shining light at the end of the tunnel. 

Was this your first film?

My first. This was my first film. I can’t remember if I was straight out of college or maybe on my last year of college, but yeah, this was my first baby.

So when you’re talking about how you used your skills to resonate to other things, was this the moment where you kind of realized, “oh, wait, I actually want to be a filmmaker, this is what I want to do?”

You know, I found like an old Facebook post that I posted in 2018, about this documentary. And I said, “One of my biggest regrets was not posting it.” Because when it came out, I had  people reaching out to me from streaming services and museums and they all wanted to screen it. But I think I was so young and just kind of doing this for my friends and my peers to see. I didn’t really know how to handle all that. When you’re Black, you don’t get these kinds of opportunities very often for you.

Yeah and you don’t understand that’s what’s happening.

Yeah. So while that was happening, one of my biggest regrets was not really trusting myself to take those reins and ride the bull, so to speak, on those opportunities. So I found this documentary again years later and one of my friends was like, “It’s never too late to do what you should have done years ago. To make that impact again and move forward with that new information.”  And I was like, “You’re right. This deserves to be seen.” I feel like it can help a lot of people and these conversations are very much still relevant today. I think it’s only right to, put it out. I only ever want to make content about what I know and moving forward, I want to make more content focusing on Black nerd culture, whether it’s scripted or unscripted. You know what I mean? So, yeah, I don’t know if that answers your question.

It definitely answered my question. Do you feel like Black cosplay acceptance has changed at all or gotten any better? For example, I noticed more Black cosplayers now on Instagram and TikTok. I see more of them prevalent but I don’t see them reaching like the levels of like Jessica Nigri.

I feel like there’s a change in the sense that, like you said, there are a lot more Black cosplayers, especially Black female cosplayers, like they are taking over. I still follow a lot of cosplayers and I have mutuals that are cosplayers. We have Megan Thee Stallion cosplaying, you know? You can’t deny that Black women who do this stuff exists. So I will say it’s changed  in that sense, but like you said, we don’t have anybody that’s like the Jessica Nigri or like the Yaya Han of the Black cosplay community. That would be great to see, to have somebody to look towards and be like somewhat of a pillar even though I don’t believe in putting people on a pedestal. It would be nice to have that kind of pillar of hope within the community, but I don’t think that we’ve gotten that yet. There are definitely a lot of Black cosplayers who have gained some notoriety for sure but I’ll just be looking out for that person. 

Is there any anime that you are currently watching that you really like? Or that you’re resonating with?

So I’m really obsessed with Fire Force. I liked it so much that I started picking up the manga and like, Lord knows, I don’t have time to like really dive into manga lately. I really love Fire Force and Demon Slayer is really good. I’m also currently watching the part two of the season finale of Attack on Titan.

Thank you so much for your time. You’re really interesting to talk to. Thank you so much for letting me watch your film. I hope you have a great rest of your day.

Thank you so much.

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