by Aitch Cee
(If you feel so inclined, go to my cosplay page)
One of the biggest problems a cosplayer faces is deciding on their costume. The decision is based on a few factors some being how much they like the character, the materials and cost involved in putting the character together and yes even factors of weather and comfort. Let’s face it, while cosplaying Iron Man may be a cool idea one has to consider the sacrifices made to pull it off. Another factor may also be for some if they are doing a character, which version will they do or how many others would a cosplayer expect to run across at a con and how would they go about making their character unique? Go to any show and you will undoubtedly run across numerous people playing Loki (and a lot of them are WOMEN), Deadpool, Harley Quinn and a variety of other popular characters. But there are those of us who have an extra hurdle to cross when planning out our costumes and it’s a question I ask myself a lot. How do I cosplay a non-black character when I myself am black?
And while some of you say, ‘You just do’ that answer isn’t always so simple. While many of us have favorite characters we want to portray, many of us know that pulling it off is more than just donning the costume, but some of us wonder about how accepted it will be when the person cosplaying a character of one race is of another race. Not to mention we have to figure out how to go about dealing (or if we want to deal) with someone who wants to be a jerk about our cosplay. Let’s be really frank about this discussion because part of cosplaying is overcoming a lot of self-esteem issues to do something that the average person won’t do (especially when sometimes those being critics ARE average people.) out in public. Many of us, myself included, have had to get over ourselves so much in order to go out to a con, photo shoot or community service event and it can be an experience. because we already know that some of us out there in the geek community aren’t so accepting of anything but what they consider to be ‘canon’.
Now you have to factor in the fact, that someone will get butt-hurt because it’s a black person portraying a predominantly non-black character and now you have to have a way of dealing with them without it becoming a very negative situation. Real talk, there have been times I have been more nervous about my cosplay than I have doing job interviews because I want to believe that I can go to a show and have a good time and not having to restrain myself from some idiot who doesn’t know better. I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who was in a fight at a con over something so stupid and tangible such as my skin color.
(but dammit some of you guys out there make it hard!!!)
But nothing is as disheartening as being out in these places and being told (not asked in some cases, TOLD) that you can’t cosplay this particular character because the character is of the ______ race. Really? And whose fault is that? I try to limit the debates I get into with people on these issues because 1.) if they know the history of comics and comic characters, then they should already know that there is a dearth of minority characters as it is 2.) times are changing and some of those predominantly white characters have changed to reflect the days and times we are living in and of course 3.) considering at some point in our lives many of us who consider ourselves geeks have had to deal with people who attempted to tear down our self-esteem, what right do you have to critique someone’s cosplay because they aren’t the ‘right’ color? 4.) if you want an accurate portrayal, many of us would have to change their hair, and our skin to do so and many of us would never do that because blackface/whiteface/anyface that is not our race is a sore subject. And doing so can easily be misconstrued as being racist. Do you really want to be ‘that person’ after dealing with ‘those people’ most of your life? My biggest challenge to lay down for those that have issues with some of my cosplay is simply this: if you can do it better than me or anyone like me, I say go for it. If you are willing to dress in a costume and walk through the streets with people staring at you, in sometimes uncomfortable costumes for hours on end all for the sake of fan-dom, then do it but until then your rights to judge me are null and void.
One thing I DO have to say is (and for those who know what I speak don’t take it personal) I was reluctant to cosplay as Bishop. Some of my friends suggested it because they said I fit the role. And because I know they mean well, I knew that their intent was not JUST BECAUSE I was black. For myself however, I was reluctant initially to do it was I look at Bishop as yet ‘another black character’ that we have so few of that I was fit to do especially in light of so many other non-black characters I wanted to do. I think after doing it, it’s safe to say that I have good friends because not just them but many who have seen it have given me such positive feedback that it just may become my cosplay of choice.
However, a lot of us still don’t have that choice or get that kind of feedback regardless of what character they play. In the few short years I have been around cosplayers, I have seen black cosplayers emulate Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, gender bender Storm, Colossus, Cyclops and many others and no matter how well they do it and pull it off, there is always that one person that has to throw race in it. Why? As long as those people are having a good time why spoil it with your purist opinions? I still find it quite sad that there are some official cosplay organizations I can never join because there are no canon characters that I could adequately portray because those particular ‘universes’ don’t have a predominantly black character in it or if they do, I would never portray just for the sake of doing so.
Truth be told, nothing is worse when sometimes it comes from my own people. I do remember one incident when I had a black guy tell me that I couldn’t be Ezio because in the game was white. I asked him if he was sure and he said yes. So I corrected him by reminding him that Ezio was actually Italian and he was still trying to work that out as I walked off. Then there was a recent incident when someone said the same about my portrayal of Cyclops. It was bad enough that he was trying to figure out what version of Cyclops because he had never seen it done before when one of his friends walked up and negated his criticism by telling me how cool it was that I was doing it based on Grant Morrison’s and Frank Quitely’s run on the book.
It’s really sad in this day and age, we still have to put up with such foolishness from a community that should be more accepting but what I found amusing and simultaneously sad was this past weekend was to hear some of those same little whispers at Katsucon and actually seeing a few posts about people who are uncomfortable to cosplay certain characters because of their race. And to critics I ask, ARE YOU SERIOUS? How can you as a non-black, non-minority person go about criticizing someone at an ANIME convention whose culture is MOSTLY JAPANESE? Especially if you are a non-Asian cosplayer dressing as an Asian character?? In that case, anyone at an Otokon, Katsucon, or any con that is mostly Asian in nature would be in ‘violation’ so for anyone to criticize, they need to stop that madness. If it was a crime for non-Asians to cosplay Asian characters at an anime con, there were be long lines in jail to lock a lot of us up.
I am going to wrap up with this. The point of cosplay is it’s a celebration of fandom for whatever it is that brings us joy. It is one of the ultimate ways of expressing this fandom and as a hobby it is accessible to everyone. No one has a right to criticize someone else because of their race, gender, height or size and age. Not unless of course you want that same kind of criticism leveled back at you. ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’ as it’s said and again as I stated earlier, unless you are perfect, there is no room for bigotry when it comes to cosplay. But you have to be responsible and respectful in how you deal with situations. You CANNOT take a negative and give a negative BACK. If you want people to stop making things about race, I am ready to do so when you stop feigning offense at our portrayal of predominantly non-black characters especially when many are still ignorant of what issues many of us have in our own communities especially when it comes to issues of race. One of my friends pointed out today that someone asked her about her negative experiences as a cosplayer of color and they got offended at the answer. If you can’t handle the answer, don’t ask the question especially if you aren’t open minded enough to understanding them. Also as a cosplayer, do what makes you happy and like anything else in life, never let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do because when it comes to this hobby we can be anyone we choose to be. There is nothing like that feeling you get when someone praises you for your cosplay regardless of who you are and great is that feeling you get when the ones praising you are the creators of the characters we play. Look at it like this; at the cons we go to, there are also kids there that we are influencing and whose dreams of seeing heroes come to life we are making true and some of them one day will be replacing us. We have to set the example and if some of us can’t look past the color of the cosplayer, then we are setting a poor example for something that we all claim to love. We must strive to do better so when these kids start doing what we do, they won’t make those same mistakes. So, let’s set a better example for them if for no other reason than the fact that it’s the morally right thing to do.