ONTD Political

"I'm a Black Female Cosplayer & Some People Hate It"

7:50 pm - 02/04/2013

Once upon a time, I inadvertently started a cosplay race war on Tumblr. Whoops.

So, here's the deal: I'm a cosplayer. If you don't already know one of us in person, (and you probably do) (WE'RE EVERYWHERE) you've probably seen people like me on the news -- all dolled up in a rainbow of face paint and eye popping wigs, 50 shades of spandex and skyscraper shoes, for the sake of expressing love for and bringing our favorite characters to life at sci-fi, comic book, video game and anime conventions.

Since I started cosplaying in 2008, I've traveled the country, hitting up as many cons as financially possible. all the while making incredible friends, unforgettable memories and lugging hard-to-get-through-airport-security props along the way. (Have you ever tried to fly with a dress made out of plastic bubbles? Fun fact -- YOU CAN'T. But you can ship it to your hotel!)

Here's the second deal: I'm also black. Which is fine by most everyone, until I have the audacity to cosplay a character who isn't.

After my pictures started making the rounds on deviantArt, tumblr and 4chan, it became pretty clear that my cosplay brings all the racists to the yard, and they're like…white cosplay is better than yours.

I got a crash course in this when in 2010, I cosplayed Sailor Venus, my favorite character from my favorite anime, Sailor Moon. I found a fellow cosplayer to commission it from, as I wasn't able to sew at the time, and worked carefully with her to bring the costume to life. I then constructed all of my accessories, agonized over choosing a shade of blonde I thought would compliment me, and wore her to A-Kon 21, a yearly anime convention in Dallas.

One of the big draws for cosplayers at cons is going to the series-specific photoshoot, where you gather with other people doing characters from the same series and pose for pictures. While at the Sailor Moon shoot, I chatted up and befriended a photographer who took the now infamous picture of me that would eventually go on to accompany numerous blog and forum posts arguing about whether or not black people should cosplay outside of their race.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I thought I'd just post this picture on my Facebook and be done with it. Little did I know…

"For a black cosplayer (not to be racist) she did an amazing job!" the original Tumblr post read. It was later was edited to include "I love her skin tone" after all hell broke loose.

Personally, I've always been stuck on those first few words: "for a black cosplayer." As if the bar was set lower for us, as if we weren't expected to perform on the same level as white cosplayers.

I lost track of how many times the post was liked, reblogged, linked to other websites -- even now, nearly three years after the picture was taken, complete strangers will come up and reference it to me at cons, and it's even come up in job interviews. My Venus became the unintentional face of the cosplay race debate online, an unwitting example of "Black cosplayers doing it right," as if 9 times out of 10, black cosplayers were doing it wrong by default.

What kills me is that in person, nobody has the balls to say a word about whether or not they think darker-skinned people should cosplay lighter skinned characters -- but online is a completely different animal. Online, I was "Nigger Venus," and "Sailor Venus Williams" because I am black.

My nose was too wide, lips were too big, I had a "face like a gorilla" and wasn't suited for such a cute character, because I am black. My wig was too blonde, my wig wasn't blonde enough, or, my wig was ghetto because I was making it ghetto, by being black and having it on my head.

And furthermore, if I was going to insist on "ruining characters," I could have at least picked one with black hair so it looked more "natural." I should have worn blue contacts -- but if I had, it would have looked ghetto. Because I am black.

The depths that the insults sink to are enough to scare many interested cosplayers away from even trying. I had an indian friend who refused to cosplay anything other than Indian characters after watching the way people tore into my costumes online.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Female Captain America did not come to the future to deal with your racist MALARKEY.

When called on it, most will say that it's an "accuracy" thing, that in order to "look better" it's best to stick to characters "in your range," which is a popular rationalization for shutting down plus-size cosplayers as well.

Characters in my range? Comic book heroines and anime characters are typically about 6 feet tall, have basketballs for boobs and probably weigh around 110 pounds. They're not in anybody's range. Let's be real, here -- we are grown men and women pouring all of our disposable income into dressing up as cartoon characters on the weekend. It is not that serious.

I'm aware that to actively engage yourself in such a visual hobby as cosplay, you have to have a thick skin -- and I do. I'm cool with people criticizing my choice in fabrics, choice in wigs, choice of pose, whatever. But my skin color is something I can't change, nor would I if I had the ability. I love the skin I was born in, and I won't apologize, make excuses or work around it for anyone's benefit beyond my own.

One of my good friends (and cosplay idols) does a killer Wonder Woman and Batgirl where she prominently features her natural hair almost as a centerpiece. Seriously, a Wonder Woman and a Batgirl rocking a full head of gorgeous, natural curls. Who could be mad at that?

More people than you'd think. The characters might not be real, but the racism is.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

This dress cost me three months and almost all of my sanity…but I got to be a Disney Princess!

I'm thankful that the black cosplay community has encouraging blogs like Cosplaying While Black and World of Black Heroes, so now anyone who might be curious about joining in won't have to worry about feeling out of place, and will also have a reference to see how certain colors, styles and characters look when portrayed by someone who shares similar features.

We have celebrity support as well -- Gail Simone, the current writer of DC's Batgirl has given her stamp of approval to cosplayers of color time and time again -- she even told me she liked my Batgirl on Halloween! (And if Gail Simone likes what you're doing, then everyone else can take a step to the left because GAIL SIMONE.)

And on the flip side, I have no problem with lighter-skinned people doing darker-skinned characters, either. One of the best Storm cosplayers I've seen was a white woman, and I referred to her costume on the regular when I was working on my own.

I think that at the very heart of cosplay is the love for a character, and the desire to bring that character to life. That's what it should be about.

As female cosplayers, we have enough to deal with (like making sure that people know that our costumes aren't a permission slip and being accused of being "fake geek girls") without being divisive amongst ourselves, so can we stop being unnecessary and just encourage each other? And share tutorials?

Because I'm always looking for some good tutorials.

Source thinks she looks fucking awesome.

Found this because comic writer Gail Simone, mentioned in the article, linked to this today on Twitter and posted a bunch of links to different posts on Cosplaying While Black, and I thought this was kind of timely for Black History Month.  

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sunnyolaf 5th-Feb-2013 07:36 am (UTC)
I think she looks great and I love her Captain America.
jaydestarlight 5th-Feb-2013 07:44 am (UTC)
Cosplay racism makes my skin crawl. It's a fun (if not expensive) hobby that brings many people together, and should stay that way.
vulturoso 5th-Feb-2013 07:44 am (UTC)
She looks badass and I hope she never lets anyone try to tell her she can't do whatever she fucking wants.

Side note: can't wait to see the Akuma cosplayer at Emerald City Comic Con again this year. :)

mickeym 5th-Feb-2013 09:06 am (UTC)
Oh, my god, those eyes! *shivers*
the_glow_worm 5th-Feb-2013 08:02 am (UTC)
If cosplayers had to stick to cosplaying their own race...then a lot of the white people at anime cons would have to start putting their costumes away. Sailor Venus isn't white any more than she is black.
liliaeth 5th-Feb-2013 08:10 am (UTC)
This so much.
ladypolitik 5th-Feb-2013 08:52 am (UTC)
I honestly dont know how you do it. Over the years Ive either opted out of anything fandom or geek culture-related, or not pursue something that passively piqued my interest, because the racism and/or sexism and/or double-standards was/is just really gross and discouraging. I dont even think the existence of support groups made up of marginalized folk would ease how unsettling these subcultures can get for me. If I cant enjoy an interest privately, I'll pass. Cosplay is participatory by its very nature, so for me it's like "LOL NO DICE, EVER".

Edited at 2013-02-05 08:53 am (UTC)
squeeful 5th-Feb-2013 08:24 am (UTC)
My Captain America heart forever belongs to this little guy:

Sweetest kid at con ever.
abiding 5th-Feb-2013 08:51 am (UTC)
AWWWWWWWW oh my god.
theidolhands Keep Calm & Carry On Cosplaying5th-Feb-2013 08:41 am (UTC)
Well, I'm one of the people who fucking loves it.

abiding 5th-Feb-2013 08:47 am (UTC)
I love seeing this here after I read it earlier tonight, and then got trapped on the CWB tumblr. I just made myself quit after 55 pages. And tbh, unless I know the person in the cosplay, or it's a rare one, or a kid, I usually only reblog POC cosplay.

Edited at 2013-02-05 08:50 am (UTC)
tilmon 5th-Feb-2013 08:47 am (UTC)
I think I've seen you on Tumblr, since I get a lot of Gail Simone reblogs come my way. If so, yeah, that Batgirl costume is awesome! So are these others that you've shared here.

Edited at 2013-02-05 08:48 am (UTC)
fickery 5th-Feb-2013 09:51 pm (UTC)
If this is to me, then no, I'm not on Tumblr. Yet. (By which I mean, I don't have an account, although I spend way too much time there for someone who doesn't have an account. :) If/when I do cave, Gail will be one fo the first people I follow, though!
mickeym 5th-Feb-2013 09:05 am (UTC)
Source thinks she looks fucking awesome.

I think she looks fucking awesome, too. Esp. the Captain America costume. Wow. I'm a bit smitten :)

But seriously, the author's comment about characters in her range? So very true. And what about the characters that don't...aren't... human. I know people cosplay werewolves, trolls, elves, and so who the hell would be 'okay' to play them? Since they're not only not real, but not human.

Gah, I'm not sure I'm even making sense. But it really pisses me off that someone gets shit for playing a *pretend character*, because they're "not the right race". Just--wtf?

I hope the author of the (source) article keeps on doing what she loves--because she looks awesome in all the pictures she shared, and I'll bet she looks awesome in all the ones she didn't.
alexvdl 5th-Feb-2013 09:18 am (UTC)
That's some bad ass cosplay.

Also Marvel canon has the first Captain America being black, and the Sailors are aliens...
squeeful 5th-Feb-2013 09:35 am (UTC)
Uh, no, Marvel canon for Captain America has always been blue-eyed blonde white Steve Rogers. Unless you're thinking of Ultimates (Earth-1610) Nick Fury who was an unwitting and unwilling guinea pig for Project Rebirth. But even then he was an incomplete success for the super soldier project who runs away and gets one line about how the American public wouldn't accept a black Captain America while also talking about his cowardice.
lady_borg 5th-Feb-2013 09:49 am (UTC)
OOOOh her, she is amazing.
urplesquirrel 5th-Feb-2013 09:49 am (UTC)
I'm just here to see if we're going to get wank about whether it counts as blackface for a white person to wear dark makeup to cosplay a dark-skinned character. Because that argument ALWAYS starts whenever there's a discussion of race and cosplay.
squeeful 5th-Feb-2013 09:53 am (UTC)
Wait, there are people who argue that it doesn't count? How...?

...I give up.
fauxparadiso 5th-Feb-2013 10:12 am (UTC)
title or description

I only cosplayed once as Zazie from Negima for Anime Expo '08, but it was such a fun, positive experience. I had never really sewn before so it felt cool taking time to make my own vest and skirt. Fuck anyone who wants to take that away from WoC just because of their skin.
fluffydragon 5th-Feb-2013 07:24 pm (UTC)
awwww... you look great!
shadwrayvn 5th-Feb-2013 10:18 am (UTC)
Wow she looks amazing! Screw all the haters effing mouthbreathers!
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