I first came across the ultra glamorous Josephine aka The Venus Noire a few months ago when I saw some pictures of her Uhura cosplay. INSTANT FOLLOW. (But who doesn’t love Uhura?! WHO?! Don’t answer that. I will judge you.) As I saw more and more of her amazing cosplay, I never dreamed that I’d get a chance to have her for a cosplay corner interview here for Black Nerd Problems. But hey, here we are and life is wonderful: let me introduce you to the wonderful world of Venus Noire!
Black Nerd Problems: Please tell us a little about yourself.
Venus Noire: My name is Josephine. I’m 24. Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a really neat historic little beach city. Graduated from college last year and have been working full time ever since in marketing. I love traveling, cooking, and recently I’ve gotten into photography. I’ve been cosplaying for about two years and really love it.
BNP: Uhura was your first cosplay, correct? Since your dad is a big Star Trek fan, you grew up seeing Lt. Nyota Uhura, one of the most dynamic women to ever grace our television (and film!) screens as someone who not only looked like you (REPRESENTATION MATTERS!) but was a pioneering figure for black women in the sci-fi genre. What else factored into your decision to cosplay as her?
Venus Noire: Yep! Uhura was my first cosplay! A friend brought up going to Dragoncon and when I did more research on the convention I realized I would need a costume. I couldn’t think of a character I would want to pay tribute to more that Lt. Uhura. So I commissioned a gorgeous latex Uhura costume from Shhh! Couture. My dad was a huge Star Trek fan and would always have either that, the history channel, the news, or another science fiction show on. Seeing Uhura on my television every day was the first time that I really remember seeing a black woman on television having adventures and being a leader. I was a huge fan of Xena and Sailor Moon as a kid, and those shows had great strong women as leads but no women who looked like me. So when I saw a show with someone who looked like me doing things that I wanted to do (go on adventures, save the day, travel to new places, etc.) I latched on and didn’t really let go.
The little nerdy black girl that I was desperately needed to see herself in a genre that she loved with her whole heart.
The (not so little) nerdy black woman that I am today is demanding to see herself in this genre. Lt. Uhura paved the way for us to have characters like Abbie Mills, Zoe Washburne, Michonne, Fish Mooney, Iris West.
But it’s not enough; there should be more diversity, more instances where black nerds can see themselves in this culture. So as a black nerd I make sure to support and try to bring visibility to projects that are diverse, I make sure to encourage and lift up other black cosplayers, and point out instances of f*ckery (only way I can think to put it) when it occurs in this community. For me growing up Lt. Uhura was black girl nerd representation, she was it. I want my nieces (budding little nerd girls) to have more representation than I did growing up. I want them to see a lot of diverse, and dynamic black women in nerd culture.
BNP: How has the cosplay community treated you as a black, female, queer cosplayer overall? Also do you have any mantras you tell yourself when you have to navigate through f***boy-ness, I mean misogyny?
Venus Noire: Hahahaha! The cosplay community has definitely been an interesting space to navigate. When I started to cosplay, mainly when I started posting my cosplay online, things changed completely. I was able to meet other cosplayers who had similar interests and wanted to fangirl over the same things that I did, which was and still is one of my favorite parts of this community. Being online you’re able to chat with people who you wouldn’t even know in the real world and you’re able to create a fun little community of friends with similar interests.
That’s the good part… The bad parts though are pretty darn bad. I remember when I got posted on some anonymous message board and one of my friends from high school messaged me on Facebook about it. I hadn’t heard of anonymous message boards before, just not really my part of the Internet, but when I went to look at the thread I was posted in I was really shocked. There was such a mixed bag of things; racist comments about me not being the race of the character I was portraying, posts calling me fat, posts talking about what the poster would do to me sexually, and just a lot of really terrible things.
It seems like if you’re not white and skinny in this community you’re going to get hate. Either from people who are only brave when they’re anonymous or people in the community who are ignorant enough to believe things like blackface is okay and you should only cosplay characters that look like you. I’ve also had to deal with a lot of privacy issues that I wasn’t really expecting but completely freaked me out. I found a message board post where people were discussing whether or not my breasts were real, going so far as to find pictures from my high school prom comparing them to pictures of me now. I’ve seen someone share one of my photos from Facebook and post under it about whether I liked black guys or white guys, and one person firmly declared that I don’t like guys at all and that I am a lesbian. (I suppose that’s what queer means to them.)
And I’ve also had to deal with a lot of people wanting to know things that could potentially put me in danger (full name, where I work, etc.) So this community can be really wonderful but there is definitely a downside to being so active in this community and active online. For the most part though I keep my head down and do the work. I make costumes that I am proud of, go to conventions, make videos, blog, and try to focus on the positive parts of the community. And when I can’t do that I log off and try mixed drink recipes I found on Pinterest. (Hahaha no judgement, please)
BNP: NO Judgement, here. (People are sleeping on those Pinterest drink recipes!) I hear you’re a new convert to Steven Universe. Welcome to the fandom! Glad to have you. I have to know: who is your favorite Gem?
Venus Noire: Yasssss! I love Steven Universe! I remember listening to an episode of The Read where they had Estelle on and she was talking about the show, and I thought it sounded so cute and interesting. Plus I’m sort of an Estelle stan… Then a few months later my nieces sat me down and made me watch it. I was hooked. Plus it’s on Hulu! So I have no excuse but to frequently binge watch. I love Garnet! Garnet is so cool and calm and she’s got it together. Garnet is the Gem I aspire to be when I grow up. Amethyst is probably the Gem I can relate to the most though. She’s loud, silly, funny, and really impulsive.
BNP: I remember you commenting with a “YASSSSSSS” on a picture of a Kamala Khan cosplayer that I saw at my local comic book store on FCBD. I thought she nailed it but was a little wary of seeing a comment or two regarding her size because she’s not a petite cosplayer. I believe cosplay is for everyone, cosplay is every body type. Regarding bodyshaming and folks who like to attack cosplayers based on the grounds that they aren’t waif thin, what are your thoughts on shutting down people like them?
Venus Noire: That Kamala Khan cosplay was flawless! Plus I love seeing anyone dress up as Kamala because she’s such an amazing character! I hate seeing fatshaming comments and it happens so often. Because cosplay is visual and you’ve got ridiculously drawn characters to be compared to, people are often fat shamed or body shamed in this community.
There’s nothing people hate more than a happy fat person, it’s fine if they’re crying on a weight loss tv show, or sharing how disgusting they feel and how they want to lose weight.
But a fat person who’s happy and just having fun in cosplay? Brings out the Balrog in folks.
People will make memes, post a cosplayer’s photos all over the Internet, send hate mail and pretty much turn into monsters because someone had the audacity to cosplay while being plus sized. Anytime I see fatshaming I make sure to call it out and I also make a solid effort to support other plus sized cosplayers. Sending positivity someone’s way either through a comment under their photo, or by sending them a message or sharing their cosplay is one of my favorite things to do. It’s not waiting for someone to post something stupid about a cosplayer and responding to it, it’s taking the time to lift up cosplayers who don’t fit into the waif thin, white, and conventionally attractive mold. I think by doing more of that people who are interested in cosplay but are scared that they’ll be ignored or made fun of can see that plus size cosplay is valued and that you can be a great cosplayer at any size.
BNP: Top five favorite female television characters to have your back in a fight and why?
- Martha Jones: Saved the world so many times. Good person to have on your side.
- Abbie Mills: Will get the job done. She’s all about the mission.
- Lt. Uhura: Great leader.
- Nikita Mears: Kicks major ass.
- Sophia Petrillo: She was a scrappy old lady. I appreciate that.
This is like my ultimate female tv team. There’s not a situation that I can think of that this team wouldn’t be able to handle.
BNP: I know you’ve done some tutorials on wigs when it comes to cosplay. Just how important is it really to have the right wig or style a wig the right way–can it make or break a person’s cosplay?
Venus Noire: I love wigs! And I think that it can be super important for your cosplay but as a black cosplayer I definitely have to do my own adjustments to characters hair. If a character has really light hair (blonde or white) I usually pick a wig with dark roots. I’ve been thinking about possibly doing a Black Widow cosplay and instead of going for her super red hair I’m going to try an auburn/black mix. It’s all about making adjustments for what works for you and will make you look good. But there are some cases where wigs aren’t necessary. When I did my Power Girl cosplay I really didn’t want to spend money on a wig so I wore my hair, and even though I didn’t have a blonde bob I still looked like Power Girl.
BNP: What are your future goals?
Venus Noire: I just really want to keep learning and growing both in cosplay and personally. I’m currently creating my own website and teaching myself how to use the Adobe Creative Cloud. I got a great new camera so I want to get more into photography. I’m working on creating more content for my Youtube channel since I really love making videos. There are just a lot of things that I’ve found in cosplay that I really enjoy that I want to explore more, and I am excited about the possible opportunities that will arise from cosplay.
Be sure to see more of her cosplay on her Facebook page!
All photos supplied by the cosplayer with the exception of:
The Black Canary Photo, Matthew Richardson
The Susan Storm Invisible Woman photos, Matthew Richardson