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Breaking down the Michonne Cosplay, Blackface and some of the fallacies within

UPDATE  March 2015: After the initial posting, Kira decided to keep going with her ‘art’.  She took down her initial page and started a new one and still insists that this is art, regardless of who it offends.  Her time money and energy and money was worth more than understanding what her ‘art’ does negatively to others. She was given the benefit of the doubt and that got tossed to the wayside.

 

*** When you are done here, read this***

So right now, cosplayers and others in the geek community are discussing this young lady Kira Markeljc who decided that she loved the character Michonne so much that she would cosplay her. Which is great, except there is an issue; she wanted to be so accurate to the character, that she actually darkened her skin and from the looks of it, used a nose prosthetic as well to accurately portray her character.   Reaction to this has been varied and divisive. Some have brought it to her attention that she was insulting Black people because she was doing black face and what she was doing can be seen as an affront.   So I will cover a few things from my own POV on this issue.  First of all, let’s cover 2 basic questions:

Is this blackface?  NO.

Can this be misconstrued and mistaken as blackface?  YES.

Now that’s out of the way,let’s move on.

Is what she did racist?

In my opinion, I would like to believe that what she was trying to establish wasn’t to insult or mock the character.   I do believe that what she was doing was something that many strive to achieve to do and that was to be the most accurate in her portrayal of the character.   The issue I have however is the ignorance of what she was doing and how she proceeded. In my opinion, in cosplay or any role that you take on, one should be aware of the responsibility of what you are doing and how it may affect others, so sure, if we give her the benefit of the doubt and say “Well ok, she is from Germany and she may be ignorant of what blackface is.” Great…but there are two things to be aware of. One, Germany and much of the world still have a history of negativity and blackface and Germany had issues as recently as the World Cup when fans thought doing blackface somehow was ok. So to say that she was ignorant of the fact still leaves a lot to be desired and questionable and her reaction after having it brought to her attention was also troublesome.  So, given what’s presented NO, it’s not racist. BUT, what happens next when she gets informed about her actions becomes troubling.

Was she responsible as a cosplayer?

We all have done some things in life that may have offended others, myself included.   And there have been times when we have done so inadvertently and because of how we were raised or our cultural background did not perceive what we did as a slight.   So again, if we gave Kira the benefit of the doubt in that she meant no harm, once she was told what she was doing could prove insulting to others, why would she say, “Everyone who makes something good gets haters, right,” Markeljc said. “I see it as something special; my site also gets more likes.” This is where she drops the ball. Instead of owning up to what she did and the possible insult she would cause, she comes off almost like she wants the attention and is glad for it. It’s almost a middle finger to those who are blatantly telling her “this isn’t right.” it’s not even like someone wanted an apology but at the most she could have stated that she understands the concerns that others have raised; that didn’t happen because, ‘haters are gonna hate’.  When it gets this far, it’s hard to argue that ignorance is bliss because now when you are at this stage, you as a cosplayer have a responsibility to keep your cosplay in a positive spotlight and the way you react in such an adverse environment will determine if others will ultimately respect your decision or turn on you. Her reaction showed that she didn’t care as long as she got more likes. Again it’s not just in cosplay but in any area where you may be a part representing a whole. It’s almost the same thing we tell people about reactions they may get depending on what they wear. It may not be right for people to talk to you or treat you any kind of a way based on what you dress but at the same time if you want to be treated right you have to show some dignity and class when something negative is brought to your attention. Was she responsible as a cosplayer when informed about her cosplay being offensive? NO.

What about other arguments made?

What I have found interesting in trying to illuminate people on this topic is the total amount of false equivalents brought forth during the discourse of this topic.

  • So if a person colors their skin, green, blue or chartreuse, or if they are Twi’leks and Wookees it’s ok but if they color it brown it’s wrong. <<this argument doesn’t hold up simply because characters of that skin tone and aliens as we know them don’t exist so stop it.
  • But what if I cosplayed someone of a different race? How is that offensive? I am trying to stay authentic. << Same reason why we are talking about this in the first place. Any time you decide to do any cosplay where you are changing your skin or your looks to fit someone of an ethnicity (Black, Asian, Hispanic, Indian etc.) that has and still is being systemically oppressed,  you are running the inherent risk of offending someone.  Do you think all Asians are cool with Westerners cosplaying anime characters?  Do a google search for “Asians against western cosplay” and see what you find.
  • But…but Europe is cool with this and so enlightened!!  << Yeah…no.  If you missed the other links, go educate yourself on Black Pete.
  • But wait, what about The Wayans in White Chicks?   <<that movie insulted everyone and is a perfect example of just because you can do a certain thing doesn’t not mean you SHOULD. **
  • And Nick Cannon did it to sell records <<see above and how well did that album do?  Exactly. **

** Let’s make one thing crystal clear about those above two examples because people like to cite them as excuses for Blacks to do White face.  THESE ARE POOR EXAMPLES OF BLACKS USING WHITE FACE TO CONVEY A MESSAGE. THEY ARE RACIST AND SHOULD NEVER BE USED IN YOUR ARGUMENT BECAUSE THESE EXAMPLES ARE THE SAME REASONS WHY BLACK FACE IS WRONG. BECAUSE IT IS A MOCKERY OF SOMEONE OF ANOTHER RACE.

  • But, Eddie Murphy and David Chapelle did whiteface, why wasn’t that considered insulting to white people? <<There is a fine line in my opinion when there is such a thing as satire and social commentary and something that is meant to be hurtful. (Don’t worry I am getting to RDJ in a minute!!) If you go back and watch actually clips of what they did, Eddie Murphy’s especially, even 30 years ago, it was a testament to what defined ‘white privilege’ was and how it defined America. Again make sure before you point these examples out, WATCH them and not just blurt them out.
  • But what about RDJ in Tropic Thunder. That was black face. <<Yes it was…it surely was and maybe somewhere along the line you would have seen the movie mock mentally handicapped people, gay people as well as people dealing with addictions…but nobody remembers that. All they remember is RDJ’s black face. And few will say how much of stinging, biting satire it was on Hollywood as a whole and how it still has not changed in decades when it comes to casting people of ethnicity. But it still doesn’t beat Bamboozled. Yes…I said that.
  • And we aren’t even going to bring up Beyonce

The thing with some of these arguments is there are people who mean well and truly want to do better but a lot of them get into trouble when trying to compare apples with oranges as well as trying to get people to ‘forget history’.   You can’t forget things that are institutionalized and still happening especially when those that have committed some of the very sins that bother us won’t acknowledge them nor try to change for the better.   If you sweep a pile of dung under the rug, guess what…it’s still there. The worst thing you can tell anyone is to either ‘forget the history’, ‘stop being oversensitive’ or ‘let it go’ because in effect you are telling that person, you either have nothing to add to the conversation or don’t care enough to have it and this is especially for anyone who has never experienced what the aggrieved party is going through. In short, either stay out of the conversation or show some empathy.

Speaking of Hollywood

Someone made the argument during the course of discussion that was had that “Actors and actresses play roles other races than what they actually are on a daily basis. You got Hispanics playing as Cleopatra and Egyptians, Americans playing Italians, people that are half black half white, playing as an African. “ And just because these things happened and still are happening (An Englishman and an Aussie in Exodus anyone?) doesn’t make it right. Do a quick check of history and you will undoubtedly see that the movie industry has made it a point to continuously to eschew accuracy to ensure that big movies makes money. Anyone cool with Johnny Depp as Tonto? What about Russell Crowe playing a Spaniard in Gladiator? What about Prince of Persia? Also what about the numerous period pieces in which those of higher stations were played by actors with British accents? You know, because Brit accents are the pinnacle of upper-crust.

So, to conclude, like my friend Maki Roll who has had the same questions heaped upon her, at this point, I won’t argue the issue. Not all of you reading will agree with what is written here and that’s good. But, I will ask that before you get into a running debate over this, go educate yourself.  That includes this young lady that decided to do this cosplay. Keep in mind as well it’s not just Black people that are affected by this. There is a reason why in some parts of the world this won’t fly and also, ignorance is not bliss especially when nearly every piece of information is a Google search away. EVEN IF YOU ARE A PERSON OF COLOR and decided to cross that line, know what you are getting into and know what issues may arise. Some people will respect you for it, others may not.  If you have time to post pictures on the web that will be scrutinized because you changed your skin, you can easily Google as to why people are criticizing you for it.

Lastly, I say again, if you want to do this, if you choose to cosplay a person and change your skin color in the process, by all means do so, but educate yourself  first and just be prepared to comport yourself in the best way possible when you get reactions that are not in line with your costume and who knows, you may change a mind or two. However no one has to accept your cosplay because many will feel that skin color should not be used as a costume. Remember subjectively:

With great cosplay, comes great responsibility.

About Harry C. (1048 Articles)
Founder of The Next Issue Podcast and Pop Culture Uncovered, Harry has been reading comics since he could reach a news stand. He is also a cosplayer with his current favorite role as being Bishop, of the X-men. He is a fan of Marvel, Image and DC and is really passionate about making sure that kids get the opportunity to read. This leads him to getting out to places with comics that others no longer need and putting them into the hands of kids who will treasure them. His favorite comic characters are Batman, Spider-man, and Tony Chiu.

8 Comments on Breaking down the Michonne Cosplay, Blackface and some of the fallacies within

  1. I’m generally loving everything about this thread, but I think the Asians Against Western Cosplayers thing might be Poe’s Law. I’m half Asian, so I can say with *some* certainty that it certainly doesn’t seem like any sort of mainstream attitude among Asians.

    Like

    • BTW, that’s not to imply any insensitivity towards Asians who are genuinely against westerners cosplaying. I think it’s honestly a little ridiculous, however, I don’t think that when confronted with someone else’s distaste or disgust that we should dig in and double down on what offended the person to begin with. Listen to why they’re upset. They might just you know, have a point about how their culture is represented.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ~Finger Bang // October 14, 2014 at 11:58 pm //

    Man you hit the points….I gots nothing to add

    Like

    • How about the complete dismissal of any arguments against it. This is nothing more than a “I hate this cosplayer for changing their skintone.”

      By the author’s logic, and that of any others against it we shouldn’t cosplay at all if the character we wish to cosplay is not of our race or origin.

      Like

  3. i literally made a v log and use the same exacty argument on youtube. lol https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHZjDxheKKk&list=UUWDuRWp-bs1JrHPj-2L2c3A not spam its jus tgood to see someone break it down better than i did

    Like

  4. I’m sorry but while you’ve shown that her responses were insensitive there is a really great reason why she did everything right.

    With cosplay does come responsibility. Cosplay is an act of love. It’s an act of love for a character. It’s an act of respect for a character. We live in a time when mainstream media minimizes people of color, or worse it stereotypes them.

    This kind of cosplay sends a very strong clear message that the characters you love, the ones you look up to transcend all lines. They transcend gender and race. It breaks down the racist mantra that color matters. We’re all shades of brown and we all bleed red. More people should “Race bend” cosplay (notice not blackface or whiteface but race bend) because it sends a clear strong anti – racist message that we as a community don’t care about the racist trappings that the rest of the world clings so strongly too. We reject your notion that your skin color makes you better or inferior. It’s one aspect of a fictional character the same as their hairstyle or their eye color.

    This is a positive movement saying let’s throw off the trappings of the past and move towards a future where color isn’t the singular defining aspect of a person. It shows that we can relate to anyone of any color.

    This is the future I want to move towards. I would like the media to see that women of color appeal to EVERYONE so that we can move towards more equality in representation.

    You yourself admitted this isn’t blackface. Logically if it isn’t blackface there is no reason to be offended by it. You mention she should have apologized for hurting people’s feelings. I say no! You don’t apologize to those who would drag us backwards when we’re trying to move forwards. They need to search inside themselves and discover why a message OF LOVE AND RESPECT upsets them so much.

    Historically black people performed in blackface. They did it to break down the wall that said blacks can’t perform in the entertainment world. They then used it to mock their racist counterparts. They earned the respect of fellow white performers. It led to the spread of interest in black culture all over the world. It eventually led to reclaiming black spirituals and other aspects of black culture that had been stolen and appropriated by white culture. Those forward thinking blacks got flack for it and yet they did more to advance us than those who sat back and cried that this is racist and yet did nothing. Yes it was racist but the smart ones used the opportunity and ended up helping make the world a better place. It didn’t fix all problems but progress is progress.

    Cosplay isn’t racist. It doesn’t even start from a bad place as blackface did and still we want to condemn a forward thinking message of equality. Learn from the past but don’t live in it and don’t punish people for the sins of other’s ancestors. I’m a black woman and I applaud her and I encourage her and I say don’t apologize for being better. Don’t apologize for breaking down racial lines. Don’t apologize for sending a clear message that we’re all brown and we all bleed red. I’m more than my skin color and if I didn’t support her I would be sending a clear message that color matters. That is the message of the racist.

    It’s a sad world we live in when someone who is doing the exact opposite of what a racist would do gets called a racist. It’s time to look inside ourselves and see where the real problem lies because it’s not with this young woman.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If Cosplay is about people depicting characters that they admire, then I find it disturbing when someone portrays a member of the Nazi SS, as this young woman did at Otakon 2012 https://flic.kr/p/cEGpud

    Like

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