Disclaimer: These opinions are mine and mine alone and do not reflect the views of everyone at PCU.
So, one of my very new past times is dipping my toes into the cosplay world, and trust me when I say that it took a lot of effort for me to even do that for a couple of reasons. First, I am a plus-sized gal. Second, I am a black gal. Those two things don’t tend to mix well when it comes to costume play (cosplay for short). I have to be one or the other and not both. Fortunately, I have a strong support system that allows me to both hone my craft and have fun. On the flip side, I have yet to find someone that I would feel comfortable allowing to take my photograph for obvious reasons.
I have put lots of hard work in on my costumes, and not a soul would stop me to take my picture. Even if I wanted to shop around and pay for services – because that’s what some people do – I never found a photographer whom I feel comfortable with. Clearly, I am not the only one who felt disheartened about doing cosplay, either because of the color of their skin or because of their size. However, let’s focus on the elephant in the room: I can’t get my picture taken because I’m black.
Black cosplayers are always pigeonholed to only do black characters or characters with darker skin because of aesthetics. Even though we all know that not every dark-skinned anime character is black (shocking, I know), “________” is not black” is what is often the said the most. Even still, I am sorry: the number of black characters out here is slim because of a little thing call “lack of representation”. But folks out here don’t want to hear about that one tiny (but very significant) fact.
All of this brings up a specific point: Why is #BlackCosplayerHere a thing in 2018? Well, that answer is very simple yet nuanced. As a proud black femme, it is very hard to function in a space at all without being demonized, labeled, and having micro-aggressions coming at you from all sides – or even being outright ignored. Yes, you ready correctly: ignored. No matter how good your craftsmanship is, no matter how “character accurate” that costume and/or prop is, none of that matters because you are black. The black cosplay community is tired of it, and it all has come to a head because of the treatment of black cosplayers at a recent convention by photographers.
Cosplayer, Belle (whose twitter handle is CluelessxBelle) came up with the hashtag #BlackCosplayerHere, using Twitter as a way to spread awareness, and as a way for people to understand that the black cosplay community exists outside of February. Also, it is a way to show examples of the wrongs that have been done to them by photographers and fellow cosplayers alike. If you take the time to actually read the posts in that hashtag (some of which are not for the faint of heart due to extremely racist retorts and victim-blaming).
Also, before we go further, I feel that it’s important to mention that black folks cannot be considered racist. Prejudiced, yes. However, with the way sociology defines racism, those who are oppressed cannot be racist.
But, I digress… Nowadays, everyone has heard that “cosplay is for everyone”. However, it is starting to become more and more apparent that an “unless you’re ________” should be added on the end of that sentence. Cosplay SHOULD be for everyone. Every walk of life. People should be able to request services from “professional” photographers without having anxiety attacks looking through their portfolios. Everyone should have the ability to have their hard work immortalized. However, nothing can be immortalized with a willing photographer.
I have heard stories from friends who will straight up say that they can’t find anyone who would take their pictures because they “do not fit the photographer’s aesthetic”, or they “do not know how to photograph black people”, and all of the other excuses that equal up to “I don’t photograph black cosplayers”. Listen, if you don’t know how to photograph all subjects, then learn. If you don’t know how make a plus-sized person look flattering in photos, then learn. If you don’t know any black cosplayers to help build your portfolio, follow some.
However, not everything that is coming out of this movement is bad. When faced with adversity, a community will often comes together; even from the least expected places. In a series of tweets, drag-queen and fellow cosplayer PhiPhi O’hara has put out a call to action after being moved by the hashtag.
The supportive tweets (and the resulting stories from fellow black cosplayers) show that this is a needed conversation. These stories don’t just happen in the area of geekdom, but also in everyday life. It is actions like these that show that this is a problem that is fixable with actions rather than silence and excuses.
This tweet is the perfect way to sum up this point:
I’ll leave you with this thought: In this day and age, not being diverse is no longer an excuse. It’s a choice you consciously make. Let me know your thoughts on #BlackCosplayerHere, folks. Leave me a message down in the comments below.