Black Cosplayers Call For Change In The Cosplay Community
These cosplayers speak out about their experiences in the community and how we can empower others.
Here at Cosplay Central, we provide a place for our community to share their cosplays, tips, and tutorials. We also furnish a platform for people to share their stories and their experiences through cosplays. Just as much as our favorite characters have their own stories, so do these individuals.
We interviewed some incredible black cosplayers on why they started cosplaying, what cosplay is like from their perspective, and what changes they’d like to see in the cosplay community. Many spoke of the negativity they receive sometimes from the community, but also a feeling of empowerment coming from dressing up as their favorite characters. Here are their stories for the change that is needed in the cosplay community.
CosplayNay is New York Citys’ Frozone and real-life Spider-Man. He’s also an ambassador for RPC Studios and a social media influencer.
"Even though cosplay is all fun and games, photoshoots, video shoots, short films, and more, there will come a time when every black cosplayer will encounter some form of negativity within the community. At times, it is hard being a POC cosplayer because sometimes people won’t accept you (or the character you decide to cosplay) because you’re black. For example, there are people that will look down on a POC cosplay because the fictional character is NOT black, and other times they will only recommend a specific character for you to cosplay because their black, forgetting the most important part of cosplay is that 'Cosplay is for EVERYONE.' POC cosplayers should not limit their range of cosplay to only black characters, which brings me to accuracy. So many people are hung up on 'accuracy,' to the point where they don’t understand that Black facing is offensive. In short, don’t do it.
I’ve been cosplaying for quite a few years now, and I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly side of cosplay. But overall, the good has outweighed the bad in my experience. But there’s still plenty of work to be done: less gossip, more acceptance, less hate, more love. Cosplay has grown tremendously over the years, and the community continues to blossom. More people are watching anime, reading comics, and even casually wearing animated attire. Even hip-hop artists and A-List actors are getting more involved. Cosplay brings people together." - CosplayNay
Kai.Esh_Black is an artist, pop culture fanatic, and fitness enthusiast.
"Cosplay has been a hobby turned passion for me. I undoubtedly would have gone crazy this past year if not for cosplay. It allows me to combine all the things I love into a singular art form. It’s my outlet, my connection to a network of individuals near and far, of liked minds and shared interests, many of which I now call friends. It’s my voice; at times, I’ve found myself speechless and or muzzled. It’s a source of happiness and an escape from adulting.
Being a black cosplayer is awesome for more reasons than one. It’s a representation of the change in tide, in which many of the things that were once deemed uncool or meant for a particular ethnicity have now catapulted their way to the forefront of pop culture as a whole. The cosplay community and its receptiveness of cosplayers of color is a work in progress. I do think the changes that are necessary to bring forth inclusion have already begun. From the pages to the tv screen, to the big screen, change is upon the horizon. The rest is up to us cosplayers. We must educate the uneducated, promote, and support one another despite race, sex, etc." - Kai.Esh_Black
Jonathan Belle is Seattle's Superman! You can find him on YouTube where he teaches tutorials on cosplay and photoshop as well as his music and beer reviews.
"For me, cosplay is about being comfortable in my own skin. As ironic as that sounds (because usually, it is dressing up as someone or something else), I still believe this to be true. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we feel free to express ourselves how we like, without fear of ridicule or judgment.
Sometimes there is a seemingly extra layer of judgment and pressure that Black Cosplayers get. Sometimes we continually get told to cosplay certain characters because “it fits us better.” Sometimes we get told not to cosplay certain characters “because it’s not canon.” When it comes to cosplaying in the Black Community, these are inevitable responses that are bound to come up, which is why I believe cosplay is being comfortable in our own skin.
Of course, it doesn’t feel great to post a picture and not get the response you are looking for. A lot of hard work goes into cosplay, and it can seem a bit discouraging when we don’t receive the praise or validation we were looking for. However, there will always be people, places, and organizations that will never see things the way we do. We can do our best to educate, but some people won’t change.
What can change is our perspectives and how we address these situations. My reason for cosplay is to inspire others and to feel good in my own skin. I know who I am, what my purpose is, and what I want to accomplish. It makes it very easy not to be dismayed when I receive negative comments or trolling.
By continually working on myself and my frame of mind, it gets a lot easier to tune out the negative." - Jonathan Belle
LeRoyal is a SAG actor, Stuntman, Gamer, and a novice Dungeons and Dragons player.
"Cosplay is an excellent outlet for the creative minds that enjoy whatever someone's fandom is and just want a chance to be connected to that universe. Being a part of this community and having the support behind it is a great way to feel accepted. It means, in a way, I get to live out my dreams as whatever character I relate to. Those are reasons I cosplay; to inspire others to create and live out the characters they look up to.
When I think about the community being inclusive, as a black cosplayer, I definitely love that most people have a general opinion that anyone can cosplay. Of course, there are those gatekeepers who believe either a black person can't cosplay an anime character or want the "pure" form of whatever character. Diversity is a great way to have equal representation of whatever character, as long as a label isn't added to the character. Quite honestly, I don't like when someone says, "I love the black version of your Kirishima." I prefer when a comment is more so acknowledging that they never imagined Kirishima to be black, and they love it. Those are two very separate comments.
To help normalize these ideas more, it would be up to the photographers and share pages to utilize a method that shows equal love to cosplayers of every skin type. Not just during Black History Month. Sometimes, I don't like when Feb comes up because then that's when it's "let's spotlight black cosplayers." Don't give me wrong, the #28daysofblackcosplay is great, and I love seeing the melanin. I would want it to go beyond that. Maybe every month for one week, people can just highlight all types of cosplayers of that group. Imagine a world for one week that the share pages or photographers post nothing but black cosplayers. When that's all you see for a week straight, it becomes something more to look forward to of the DIVERSITY!" - Royaltnoy
UtahimeCosplay:Utahime Cosplay is a cosplay chameleon, Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast, actress, and avid cosplay panelist.
"Cosplay means a lot to me because it allows me to express my love for my favorite characters and fandoms. It has also given me the opportunity to encourage others that they can cosplay regardless of their ethnicity, gender, body type, or background. Not to mention getting to meet so many amazing people who I am honored to call friends!
As a cosplayer of color, you often face negativity, racism, and hateful comments from trolls who want to discourage you from doing what you love. That's why we work so hard to encourage and lift each other up so others can know that you can cosplay whatever character you want even if they do not look exactly like you. You are the embodiment of that character and not an "insert ethnicity" version of the character, no matter what anyone says.
Although there has been improvement in the cosplay community, we still have a long way to go. Cosplayers of color need to know that their work is valued and appreciated and that the community as a whole will be there to support them and stand up against those who will try to discourage them or tear them down." - UtahimeCosplay
Lucky Luna is a Twitch streamer and artist. Check out her art page: @mayajoiart to see some incredible illustrations.
"I cosplay to have a community with other nerds, and it's just a great creative outlet. I will say that as a black cosplay, I do experience criticism, whether it be for my skin tone or my size as a plus-sized cosplayer. I would like to see more cosplayers come together and support black and brown cosplayers the way lighter-skinned, thin cosplayers get that automatic support. As a black, plus-sized cosplayer cosplaying in itself feels like an act of defiance." - LuckyLuna
Venture Bros is an award winning cosplayer, powerlifter, and Co-Founder of Chicago POC Cosplayers.
"My name is Mikel Allen, also known as Venture Bros. I cosplay because it's a way to express my creativity and show my love to my favorite fandoms. For me, cosplay has become the perfect outlet to help teach others and bring many black nerds together. Being a black nerd has always been a hard thing because being a nerd used to mean you were weird or lame. Being a black cosplayer is even more difficult because you're displaying your nerdom for the world to see.
Each time I have cosplayed, I have been called the "N" word or told the character I'm cosplaying isn't black. I hope that the cosplay community changes and helps stand up for the black cosplayers that experience racism. I would like there to be more inclusion with black cosplayers in big conventions as far as contest judging and panels because we are a big part of the community as well, and we notice when we are never featured or included. We all love to cosplay, so why not enjoy it together." - Venture__Bros
Brown.Suga.Outlaw is an actress, expert craftsman, and cosplay award winner. Please look at her Instagram and check out her Imani cosplay. It is phenomenal!
"As a little girl, I didn't have very much representation. While there were black characters, a majority of the time, they had only one gender represent both parties. So I ended up identifying with the tan girl or the one that wasn't blonde. I didn't realize it when I was younger, but I thought white was the default. I believed that white people could be anything and the only way I could live out my crazy daydreams was to be someone completely different than who I was. It inadvertently messed with my self-esteem. I've matured past that to a certain point, but it hurts to look back and think about all the time I wasted wanting to be something that not only I would never be, but something that was so systematically ingrained into everyday life. Once I finally began to love what I looked like, I decided to cosplay predominately black characters to bring awareness to what characters are out there for little girls that might be suffering as I did.
I believe it is hard enough being a person. Everyone has insecurities. But to add on to that racist's notion of what the ideal beauty should look like is something that I personally want to end for girls and boys of color growing up now." - Brown.suga.outlaw