It’s hard to tell whether it’s the burst of optimism or the burst of humanity that shines through cosplayer and Instagrammer @maweezy’s Heroes Behind the PPE viral video and sends goosebumps up and down your arms — but the goosebumps are there. This video, which stars 23 cosplayers whose alter-egos are healthcare professionals, is truly something that gave people in quarantine a kick of positivity — in the healthcare community, in the cosplay community, and beyond. The woman behind the video (and the @maweezy Instagram account) is Marie, a New-Jersey-based registered nurse and cosplayer. You can scroll through her Instagram and see that her cosplay is fun, spirited, artistic, and playful. “I have this interest — or this really cool obsession — with doing mashup cosplays, where I would take one character and then another character, or a different version of a character, and just create that,” Marie says. From Battle Sally — a look that mixed Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas with battle armor — to a Game of Thrones-inspired mashup of Daenerys Targaryen and a White Walker, Marie makes a big impression with her creative takes on characters she loves — sometimes, it’s so big that she finds herself in awkward confrontations with fans.
“When I came out with that [Game of Thrones] cosplay, it was right before the final season of Game of Thrones. So there were a lot of theories being thrown around about the fate of all the characters … When people saw that I did a White Walker version of Daenerys Targaryen, some were actually pretty upset with me because they thought that was kind of like a spoiler,” Marie laughs as she recalls the story. Although it may have accidentally upset some fans, the look also earned HBO’s attention; the network asked her to do a makeup tutorial for one of its Halloween campaigns. Marie got into cosplay after attending her first con in 2012. Beyond two sewing and design, home-economics-type courses in high school, Marie’s cosplay artistry skills are all self taught. Whether she was influenced by her grandma’s sewing lessons, her mom’s passion for DIY and arts and crafts, or YouTube makeup tutorials, Marie spent the last few years really honing her cosplay style into her own individual expression. “For me, the process of making a cosplay is super important,” she says. “There would be times when I would feel pretty stressed, pretty overwhelmed with the workload that I pretty much put on myself when it comes to making a heavy-duty type cosplay. But the outcome of it and just the response and the feedback that I get from other people, especially when I wear these to conventions and seeing everyone’s reactions to it, that’s what makes it all worth it and I forget about all the stress and all the hard work that I put into this cosplay.” But this year, the cosplay community — and the rest of the world — was shaken up by the global COVID-19 pandemic. As the virus began to spread and stay-at-home orders were put in place, live events — such as comic cons and other events that are so important to the community — were postponed, canceled, or turned into virtual shells of what they once were.“I relied heavily on conventions to take pictures to put out content on my Instagram and my Facebook,” Marie says. “With that being gone and out of the picture, it’s been pretty tough to create content just to take a picture, just to have a picture in cosplay.” The lack of new photos and content is one thing, but the other, larger void left by canceled cons was the sense of community itself. The cons and live events provide cosplayers with a place to swap ideas, form partnerships, build networks, and — most of all — have each others’ backs. “The one thing that I do love about the cosplay community is how accepting everyone is and the judgement-free vibe that everyone gives off,” Marie says. “Also, just meeting talented cosplayers throughout the years has been so inspiring to me. I mean, looking at the hard work that I do and looking at the cosplays that I put out, sometimes I feel like it’s nothing compared to what everyone else puts out — and it’s so inspiring to see that I also can be that type of role model for them as they are to me.” The pandemic also served as an additional challenge for cosplayers like Marie who are also healthcare professionals in their everyday lives. Their “day jobs” changed immensely, and being considered “essential” took on a whole new, very exhausting meaning. “I’ve been working a lot, very hard, in the hospital,” she says. “Just the environment, the type of situation that we’re in, is very devastating and kind of heartbreaking. Seeing these types of patients in the hospital and seeing this virus affect so many people has been breaking down our spirits, so to speak.” Marie and some fellow nurses who cosplay started a group text thread to support each other by giving each other a safe space to vent and to talk. She realized that the foundation the cosplay community was built on — that concrete support system — was still there, and it inspired her to do the Heroes Behind the PPE video. Playing off the Pass the Brush challenges on Instagram and TikTok — where creators edit together a compilation of makeup videos that begin and end with the talent appearing to physically pass a makeup brush between screens — Marie built up an idea that could give healthcare professionals a much-needed outlet for their pent up creativity. From there, the network grew. “It started to become me reaching out to one person who knows another person, so there are a couple of people in that video that I’ve never met before, but it’s like I’ve known them for so long because of just reaching out to them and asking them to be a part of the video turned into something more beautiful where we get to talk to each other about our experiences as well, so we were connected in that way,” she says.
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With the help of this network of cosplayers, Marie was able to edit together the powerful Heroes Behind the PPE video, giving all of the participants an opportunity not only to show off their craftsmanship, but also to find a sort of purpose in a seemingly devastating world. After being posted on her Instagram feed, the video went viral in a way that Marie never expected. With more than 48,000 views, the video shows the cosplayers clad in PPE, then using medical equipment to swipe the screen and reveal themselves in cosplay, all set to The Score’s “Unstoppable.” An MRI tech becomes Wonder Woman, an ICU RN morphs into Catwoman, a lead surgical anesthetic aide transforms into the Joker, and that’s just to name a few.
However, the benefits of the video’s viral fame extended far beyond healthcare professionals and the cosplay community. The pandemic brought a lot of media attention to healthcare professionals nationwide, and Marie’s video showcases a little bit of the humanity behind those masked faces we see on the news day in and day out — a reminder that there are real people with full lives, interests, emotions, and people of their own to care for behind those N-95 masks. Plus, it brings a new spotlight to the cosplay community in general. “As healthcare professionals, this is basically our time to shine, so to speak,” Marie says. “It’s almost like there’s this big magnifying glass that was put over front-line workers. We’ve always been around and because of this pandemic and global crisis, more eyes are on us. Putting forth this video also kind of helps the world realize that there are also cosplayers out there, because not a lot people know what cosplay is or what cosplayers do.” But underneath it all, you’re watching these humans come together in a time of crisis and uncertainty. As you watch the video, your heart fills up because you’re seeing all of these “essential workers” come out from behind their protective gear and show us who they are. The video exudes compassion, togetherness, selflessness, and fun in a way that even inspires the viewer to regain hope. “I’m just really proud of everyone,” Marie says. “It was my idea, sure, but it wouldn’t be what it was without everyone else in it because they really were the ones that brought it together. I honestly did this to just celebrate them because they are also my colleagues and they’re also my heroes, so it was really cool to see it all together.”However, Marie is helping more than just those who are in her network. Because the video got so much attention, she added organizations to donate to in the video’s caption to spread awareness and help both big, national organizations and smaller ones closer to home. From Feeding America to Direct Relief to The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, fans of the video can get direct links to organizations that they can give back to in order to help out those in need. Just like the rest of us, Marie is daydreaming of a post-pandemic world where we can gather up our outfits, armor, makeup, and wallets and head to a con and hug all of our geeky friends again. Along with meeting new friends — especially those from the video who she has not had the pleasure of meeting in person yet — and feeding off of everyone’s in-person energy and getting inspired by their new creative looks, Marie is anticipating another favorite con passtime. “I’m really excited to just go to the merchants’ hall and get more stuff from different vendors because those are the main reasons why I love going to conventions,” she says. “Not just cosplay, because that’s great, too, but also just spending so much money on different nerdy stuff. So that’s another thing that I look forward to.” Whether it’s PPE, a fresh coat of makeup, or an expertly crafted, homemade helmet, remember that there is always more to the hero behind the mask.
This article was original published in Issue No. 7 of the Pop Insider. Click here to read the full issue!