This is Tuned In, a series about all the weird and interesting ways we interact with anime, and the diverse opinions we have about it.

Valentine’s Day. Super Bowl. American Heart Month. Thousands of people have these events and observances running through their minds. But February is also a month to highlight and celebrate the achievements of African-Americans all over: Black History Month. During this month, #28DaysofBlackCosplay, a popular cosplay tag, gets a lot of attention. This tag promotes black cosplayers to bring attention to the fact that they are a growing group in the community.

Cosplay (or costume play) is a fun, inclusive hobby for fans, but many black cosplayers face difficulties and hatred from some people who aren’t as accepting as they should be. As a black cosplayer, I find it strange that some people believe that fictional characters aren’t open to being cosplayed by everyone, regardless of their skin color.

Lillian portrays Usagi Tsukino main character from SAILOR MOON.
Lillian (SAILORSADIST) / Photographer: Alora King / Character: Usagi Tsukino

The main reason I care so much about this topic isn’t only because I am a black cosplayer. I’ve had the displeasure of enduring the cruel and discriminatory remarks firsthand that ward off so many black cosplayers, both new and old. The idea may seem gloomy, but the wonderful gifts that cosplay has given me and the black cosplayers I feature in the article more than makes up for it.

Negative Experiences: The Role They Play

Yvanna, or TV-chan Cosplay, states that “being a black cosplayer already gave [her] a stunted start in the community,” but being a plus-sized cosplayer made her a “double negative” to people who weren’t very inclusive. According to Yvanna, she’s come across photographers who not only refused to take her photo because their camera wasn’t “set up for taking [her] photo,” but also photographers who were complimentary of her cosplay but chose to only take pictures of her lighter-skinned friends.

One of the featured black cosplayers, Sinsay, designs her own cosplays inspired from specific characters while also suiting her body type.
Yvanna (TV-chan) / Photographer: Octography / Character: Lulu Yurigasaki

Racism is still a big problem in the community, which daunts many black cosplayers. Some fair-skinned peers apply black or brown-face to “fit the character” they decide to portray while ignoring its painful history. Black or brown-facing was an offensive way of depicting black and brown people popularized in the mid-nineteenth century. Black people were dehumanized and ridiculed by the entertainment industry. Actors and actresses covered their faces with grease paint and acted foolishly. I’ve witnessed several cosplayers black-face for cosplay and explained in vain as to why it’s offensive. These cosplayers decided that it wasn’t offensive because it was more accurate or that they “didn’t mean to be offensive.” I consider these arguments to be lazy and ignorant, proving that some people place selfish desires above the pain of others.

Experiencing racial slurs, insults, and receiving unwarranted criticisms have damaging effects of varying degrees to many black cosplayers. While I’ve received all of the above, I’ve been able to overcome the comments by calling out the person and/or getting help from friends. Being discriminated for my skin color is painful and humiliating, and having it come up when I’m dressed as a fictional character is devastating. 

Danny poses as Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog.
Danny (space.danny) / Dress: Angel-Secret / Photographer: mistypelicanphotography / Character: Princess Tiana

Cosplay to the Rescue: Hope for Black Cosplayers!

Danny, or space.danny, luckily hasn’t experienced any negativity as a black cosplayer, but she has noticed black cosplayers with larger platforms deal with harassment, which she finds discouraging. When even successful content creators are unable to avoid the ugliness of discrimination, cosplay seems less than fun or safe.

With every negative, there is a positive. It’s relieving to know that there are people who welcome black cosplayers. There are many wonderful people in the community that understand that the struggles of black cosplayers are real and valid. Cosplay means different things to different people, but many devote themselves to this hobby because of what it gives them.

Nia, one of the interviewed black cosplayers of this article, kneels in a dynamic pose as Yoko Littner from GURREN LAGANN
Nia (Rumitto) / Photographer: vidasinmuerte / Character: Yoko Littner

Nia (pictured above), or Rumitto, says that cosplay has given her some of her closest friends, which she is grateful for the most. She also takes pride in being able to “influence younger cosplayers,” which keeps her motivated to continue cosplaying. Ebby (below), known as Chibimagigirl, asserts that cosplay has helped greatly with her shyness and that she “never expected to meet, collaborate, and gain so many friends” because of the hobby.

While I’ve also met some of my closest friends through cosplay, the hobby has also given me resourceful skills. Making my own costumes has allowed me to visually piece together patterns, improving my problem-solving skills. Cosplay has also helped me improve my makeup and budgeting skills and express my love for a character in a fulfilling way. With that said, cosplay is an activity that helps thousands of people all over the world bond. It allows people to come together and create a sense of belonging, helping them build lasting relationships that can have positive impacts.

Ebby poses regally as Anthy Himemiya from REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA.
Ebby (Chibimagigirl) / Photographer: Jasemine Denis Photography / Character: Anthy Himemiya

Advice for the Unsure

Danny: “…Cosplay the character that makes you happy. There is no one way to cosplay a character, so always be nice to yourself when attempting a new cosplay…But take your time with putting out new content…[N]ever let anyone tell you that you can’t cosplay anyone. To my black cosplayers everywhere, you are amazing.”

Nia: “Surround yourself with people who support you! Having friends who are always there for you really helps. About 90% of the people I follow on [Instagram] are [People of Color], so that’s always a source of inspiration for me…If anyone says something to put you down, they aren’t really meant to be in your life.”

Yvanna: “…[L]ove yourself and love what you make. It’s very easy to be discouraged from participating in something you love because of your color/body type/gender/etc…Stay true to yourself and your craft and the success will flow to you like a fish [in] water. Be patient, kind, humble, and follow your own star!”

Ebby: “Never lose sight of why you cosplay. If you have a reason why you want to cosplay, whether it’s to become famous or inspired, then do that…As a black cosplayer, surround yourself with positive cosplaying friends, meaning people who actually understand your struggles as a black cosplayer and aren’t afraid to stand beside you or call out their problematic friend…”

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone, Take This!

Cosplay is becoming more mainstream as the years pass. It’s important to remember that cosplay is about inclusivity and fun! It can be intimidating but there are tons of different ways to adjust for your own personal comfort, Yvanna notes. Making her own costumes to fit her body type, Yvanna showcases her best features and gains amazing crafting skills! Amazing cosplays don’t always have to be 100% accurate to their real-life counterparts because it’s never always possible!

Please remember that while discrimination may not be happening to you, it’s still affecting the community. It’s never a black cosplayer’s intention to cosplay a character just to bring attention to their race. Receiving tasteless comments about their race under the guise of a compliment is unnecessary and hurtful. It perpetuates the idea that no matter what black cosplayers do, their skin tone will be seen first. Believing in cosplay inclusivity can be one of the solutions to this community-wide problem. Supporting black cosplayers can bring people together and make cosplay a fun, safe space for everyone to express their love for characters.

Featured Image Photography Credit (Left to Right): Rumitto (PC: ceruricosplay), SAILORSADIST (PC: Alora King), Space.Danny (PC: slurpyprince), TV-chan (PC: Jae – Cosplay & Photography).

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!