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  • Writer's pictureKayla Williams

The World of Black Cosplay: A Vehicle to Explore Who You Are


Camilla from A Bad Case of Stripes, 2019. Photo by Mimi



It is still Black History Month, an annual observance more commonly associated with figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, or Rosa Parks but for many black cosplayers, it’s a moment to honor characters like Black Panther, Storm, Mace Windu, and more. This month brings black cosplayers across social media platforms together to amplify their voice and productions by contributing to #28daysofblackcosplay, created by fellow cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch-Tinsley

Cosplay, a blend of the words “costume play”, is an art form that first was coined in June 1983. In an article for the Japanese magazine “My Anime”, Nobuyuki Takahashi of Studio Hard recounted his experience after he attended the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles; referring to Japanese fans dressing up as characters from anime and manga. Nowadays this activity crosses fandoms (anime and manga, superheroes, or non-Japanese cartoon characters) and has blossomed into an inclusive community at face value, but for many black cosplayers is divided.

This very fact is what sparked the hashtag that garnered momentum on social media in 2015 and is very much alive today. In a 2019 article with Chaka Cumberbatch-Tinsley for Essence, she shares her three main purposes for creating it in the first place.


“It’s always been about carving out space for Black cosplayers to be acknowledged and seen, as the mainstream cosplay media at the time was very one-note. I was tired of hearing people say that there weren’t very many Black cosplayers when I knew there were tons of us. It was an excuse and not a very good one at that. I take solace in the fact that five years later, it’s an excuse that no one will ever buy again.”

The truth is that the cosplay community is extremely diverse, but the lack of ethnic representation stems from a shortage of black people playing these cherished characters in anime, manga, superhero movies, or non-Japanese cartoons. The unfair belief that cosplayers are only allowed to be a particular race is what many black cosplay artists face daily and are often targeted online by racist comments. Mimi the Nerd, a writer, black cosplayer, and makeup artist described her experience of “Cosplaying While Black”


“One comment that comes up a lot is when some people say I cannot cosplay a certain character because the character is not black. This is pure ignorance. Any cosplay is a person’s take on a character, not an exact mirror image of the character. How someone wants to represent a character is completely up to them.”

Even Millie George, who’s been making her own costumes for years, agrees “You’re being a character. That character isn’t a real person, so it isn’t important to necessarily be everything that character is.”

These comments are the reasons why cosplayers like Cumberbatch-Tinsley created and others like Kiera Please, participate in the 28-day challenge that breaks down the racism in the community and strives to celebrate the melanated artists creating a space to bring forth conversations of equality and real inclusion.

Cosplay for many is a way to find your own voice and pay homage to the characters that you love. It’s a means of expression, creativity, and vehicle to explore who you are in different suits. It’s the product of that one moment you might have had growing up watching or reading about these fantastic characters and worlds that they reside in where you thought, “Wow, I wish I could do that.” That moment is not limited to one group of people but can be shared by all.


Resources:

Cosplaying While Black: Tips, And Inspiration. “Cosplaying While Black: Tips, Tales, And Inspiration | Make:”. Make: DIY Projects And Ideas For Makers, 2020, https://makezine.com/2020/06/19/cosplaying-while-black-tips-tales-and-inspiration/. Accessed 17 Feb 2021.

#28Daysofblackcosplay At The Mary Sue Day One, Part One”. The Mary Sue, 2021, https://www.themarysue.com/28daysofblackcosplay-day-one-part-one/. Accessed 17 Feb 2021.

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