On Cosplaying Strong Female Characters, an Interview With Michael Nguyen

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Michael Nguyen has been cosplaying and attending conventions for about six years. You can find him on Facebook at “Michael’s Cosplay” or on Instagram (@startreksuther1).

How did you get into cosplay?
Since childhood I’ve always enjoyed any chance to costume. I loved the excitement of Halloween and costume parties! Years later, I discovered the cosplay and convention world and I realized costuming didn’t have to be limited to only Halloween. I enjoyed getting more opportunities to explore the craft. I discovered an exciting, inspiring, and creative community!

Photo Credit: Michael Nguyen

And recently you started creating characters specifically of the opposite gender? What inspired the project?
Over the years I’ve enjoyed wearing a variety of costumes from genres such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, and more. Last summer I reached a point where I felt like I had most of the costumes I wanted. I started to think about other creative directions to expand my cosplaying. In July 2016, I had the chance to attend a special advanced screening of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters in New York City. I was inspired by the brilliantly written female characters in the film. I loved that they were not sexualized and they were not damsels in distress. These were intelligent, funny, and brave scientists on the front lines of the paranormal!

The movie made me think about cosplaying. It’s very common to see female cosplayers do incredible portrayals of heroines from movies and videogames. We also see female cosplayers portray male characters (femme Han Solo or femme Captain Kirk). Then I thought about times I’ve seen male cosplayers portray female characters (male Slave Leia or male Sailor Moon). While these depictions are often meant to be funny and outlandish, I felt compelled to show that men could cosplay women characters in the iconic sense their writers intended versus a comedic sense. At that point I realized that cosplaying for me wasn’t just about accuracy or fandom. Cosplaying could be used as an artistic expression to convey positive messages about equality in a fun way.

Photo Credit: Michael Nguyen

What are some of the female characters you’ve created? How and why did you choose them?
The first female character I cosplayed was Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in Ghostbusters. Holtzmann is a brilliant professor, an inspired scientist, and a hilarious prankster. Her dialogue made me laugh and I was really taken with the combination of a bold warrior and a mad scientist. I was able to find the majority of my costume on Amazon. I premiered it at New York Comic Con where I met dozens of other folks in Holtzmann costumes. We connected, made friends, and took fun pictures together. It turned into a fun celebration of such an awesome character.

I’m also a huge Star Trek fan. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (TWOK) is one of my favorite movies and I really enjoyed Kirstie Alley’s character, Saavik. Saavik is a disciplined Vulcan, cool under pressure, and a student of Spock. I also had a crush on Kirstie Alley, and one of my best friends used to be roommates with her, so those seemed like great reasons! I commissioned a new TWOK-era uniform from a good friend of mine. I obtained a costume guidebook and we made sure all the pins, colors, and accoutrements matched. I also needed a set of Vulcan ears. My friend Jacklyn from Jacklyn Black Cosplay on Facebook recommended ears from Aradani Costumes. They’re great quality and come in a variety of skin tones that’s helpful for matching.

I wore the Saavik costume on the last day of New York Comic Con. I wondered if people would be able to discern that I was Saavik versus Spock or a random Vulcan. I’d chosen not to use wigs or prosthetics because I wanted people to focus on the character rather than the mere physical appearance. What I found was a great opportunity for dialogue. People asked to take pictures and asked if I was Spock. I welcomed the pictures and said that I was actually portraying Saavik, a Vulcan woman! It surprised a few folks but also seemed to really intrigue them. If it seemed interesting and made people stop and think, then my mission was accomplished!

As a Star Wars fan, I decided to portray Princess Leia in her Endor military outfit. What spoke to me about Princess Leia is that she’s one of the main characters in A New Hope (ANH) that was already a genuine hero. While Luke had to be convinced by events to leave Tatooine and Han Solo needed some guilt-tripping, Leia’s cause was always true. We know that she was a leader in the Senate, covertly working for the Rebels. She’s also one of the main characters that comes face to face with Darth Vader in the opening scenes. Princess Leia is a strong and resilient leader who really spoke to me. I modified existing pants and shirts and re-purposed a salad bowl for the helmet. I wore the costume for Wintercon in New York and had a great time. It was somewhat ironic that I’d chosen to portray Princess Leia because Carrie Fisher sadly passed away just a few weeks later. I’m very glad I did it and it was an honor to portray Leia.

Photo Credit: Michael Nguyen

I also cosplayed another Star Wars female character, Juno Eclipse (Nathalie Cox). Juno was an Imperial Officer who defects and joins the Rebellion in the video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. I’d posted on Facebook asking for advice from other fans of Juno. It turned out that Nathalie Cox herself “liked” the post, so I was happy to have her “approval”! I wore the costume for the Cosplay Collectible Con After Party in New Jersey and had a lot of fun doing it.

Have you learned anything about your process, planning to presenting?
I used to be more impulsive with costuming. If I had a good idea on Monday and the con was Friday, I’d be ordering a lot of Amazon next day deliveries! Since then I’ve put in more thought and planning. It can be a lot more fun as you slowly piece together your creation versus trying to finish it all at once.

What are your cosplay plans for 2017? And beyond?
I’m not sure if I will be creating too many more costumes this year. I’m very happy with my old reliable ones as well as the new ones I put together in the last few months. Lately I’ve felt the need to start investing more time in advocacy, promoting non-profits, and social justice issues. However, I’m glad I’ve found a way to combine my love of the science fiction world with costuming and making positive social statements! Two birds with one stone!

Thank you so much for chatting with me!

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