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You know how the anime theme song goes: Fighting evil by moonlight, teaching kids by daylight, never running from a real fight, she is the Wakandan Sailor Moon! Well, at least that's the way cosplayer Lizzette J. might prefer it to sound. As one-quarter of the cosplaying sisterhood Sailor Milaje, Lizzette suits up as her version of Usagi — if Usagi was born in the fictional African nation of Wakanda instead of Tokyo.
Her fellow Senshi include Leanika B., a social worker, Lauren S., an accounting manager, and Kittrell B., an education specialist and the baby of the group. As the Dora Milaje told SYFY WIRE, Kittrell was the last of the group to embrace Sailor Moon, entering the fandom through Sailor Moon Crystal, the recent cartoon reboot.
They work beautifully as a group, leveraging their unique personalities and gifts as the Dora Milaje and the Sailor Senshi do onscreen. Leanika is crafty, finalizing cosplay designs, and Lauren diligently project manages and keeps everything organized. Kittrell pushes the other girls to experiment and maintains an open mind, and Lizzette, the veteran cosplayer on the team, keeps up with fandom jargon and encourages the team to carry themselves as models.
"As a squad," Lizzette says, "we are close and enjoy our time together which makes cosplaying fun, safe, and entertaining." The group is also inspired by the Dora Milaje, whom they describe as "a group of kick-ass strong black women who are tough but know their duties and their loves." The members of this sisterhood, according to the Sailor Milaje are "fearless and not bound to sexist/racist stereotypes".
Do you each identify with a different member of the Sailor Scouts and/or the Dora Milaje? How did you decide who would be whom?
Everyone identifies with a different scout because they mean something to them personally. Lizzette is a true die-hard Sailor Moon fan. She even had a Sailor Moon wedding! Kittrell sees herself in the adorable-but-tough Jupiter, and their gentle tomboy personalities are similar. Lauren always loved Sailor Saturn, her cool-but-loving nature hitting home. The fact that she is a Capricorn and loves the color purple being a huge deciding factor though. Lea feels similar Sailor Pluto, being part of a team but sometimes having trouble expressing how much she adores her friends.
What's it like cosplaying as a team in public? And where did you first premiere your looks?
We premiered at Blerdcon 2018, a few months after the release of Black Panther. That was Kittrell's first con and her official cosplay debut. It can be overwhelming at times, especially for those of us not used to the attention. Luckily we are all extremely supportive of each other so we had fun hyping each other up from down the hallways.
How do you construct your cosplays?
The props were made before the actual costumes for each scout. Pluto and Saturn's staffs were made first, and we designed the African attributes that we added to them. Each scout had a hand-made beaded tabard that blended the identities of the scouts with the Maasai beading styles you can see in Black Panther. This required a lot of visits to a chiropractor for carpal tunnel — we attached and organized each bead by hand.
We made our skirts from African wax print fabrics. This took the longest, as New York is culturally diverse, which often meant she had to visit multiple locations to find the right style. This accumulated into a 36-hour-long con crunch, with everyone working together to make sure the costumes were perfect and fit everyone's body shapes.
Have you received messages online that are rooted in racism or sexism? How do you respond and cope with that kind of attitude?
Regarding racism, well, our costumes were made to represent our culture. Anyone who was somehow confused about what we were trying to portray has not spoken up yet. Then again, we are close friends and "have time" so we address negative feedback quickly to understand their intentions.
One of the blessings of a group cosplay is that we are protective of one another and will defend each other immediately. Sexism is hard to deal with, as a lot of it is so ingrained that sometimes we miss it. Each scout has a different body type, meaning, we are all someone's "type," and this leads to commentary from all angles when we are interacting with fans and online comments. But again, that leads back to the blessing of being in a group.
What TV shows, movies, and comics inspired you most when you were kids?
We would be remiss if we didn't say the obvious. Lizzette, Lauren, and Lea grew up on Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball, even before the Toonami era. Kittrell always knew of them, but it took Sailor Moon Crystal to make her a true fan. Lizzette literally based her life on it.
Black characters such as the Proud Family and Storm from the X-Men gave us black female characters who did not fall into negative stereotypes. Lea and Kittrell are huge readers who grew up on Archie comics, Sunday comic strips, and superheroes. All of us are Disney buffs, which leads to terrible karaoke and mini "best of" tournaments when we are bored.
What geeky stuff are you into lately?
Three out of four of us are currently playing Kingdom Hearts III, and another three out of four are playing Smash. Half the group plays Soul Caliber, even joining casual tournaments... just don't question the math. We're all caught up on watching Black Lightning though.
What has been your most positive experience as a cosplayer? And what about negative experiences?
Cosplay has helped develop Lizzette and Lea into more social people. Lea will tell anyone that it took her 30 years to believe she had real friends. Lizzette has friends through cosplay who are closer to her than her own family members. Kittrell will love Blerdcon forever and considers it her best con to date. Lauren loves basking in the fun of being in costume with her friends and bringing inspiration and confidence to other Blerds.
Meanwhile, everyone has had their own negative experiences with being a geek and being a black woman. Back then, being into anime and gaming was looked down on, and we all went through our trials of having to decide which culture we are allowed to present to others.
Today there is still a lot of "gatekeeping" in the fighting game community. Guys will "let" you win a game, and then they'll get mad and send nasty messages when you defeat them. We come to the table knowing we have to work much harder to prove ourselves in the gaming community. The freedom of being supported by friends and a widening community has helped us all become better at accepting ourselves and becoming whole. We don't let our negative experiences deter us from the things we love.