To Black Cosplayers, a Love Letter

From the dawn of what would become fandom as we know it, cosplay has been a part of how fans expressed themselves and showed their interest in different nerdy properties. For Black fans in particular, cosplaying became a way to embody the characters they knew and loved – characters that didn’t always look like them. Despite frequent pushback from other cosplayers, con-goers, and loads of people on the internet, Black cosplayers have continued to embrace a fandom activity that allows them to bring their nerdy fantasies to life and see themselves in pop culture spaces like never before.

One of the highlights of watching Black Panther back in 2018 was all of the Black people who decided that this film focusing on one of Marvel’s earliest and most famous Black heroes would be their time to shine. So many dressed up toshow their appreciation for the characters and their cultures, and they wore their costumes to the premiere showings of the film, taking photos with young fans and showing off their talents, such as drumming. Cosplay for those fans then – and at the conventions to come – was a way for people to connect and share excitement for a film some of them had been waiting for from the moment that the MCU first came into being.

February, of course, is Black History Month. Every February since 2015, #28DaysofBlackCosplaya hashtag started by cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch-Tinsley to “flip the script, reclaim the conversation, and reposition February as a celebration of Black excellence and Black culture specific to cosplay” — has seen thousands of Black cosplayers show up to celebrate themselves and their hard work as cosplayers. There’s so much creativity, so much joy, all across February because those cosplayers have chosen to gift us all with glimpses of their immense talent.

Cosplay isn’t just a part of fandom, it has communities in its own right. Black cosplayers are hypervisible for being Black nerds in what’s largely seen as a “non-Black” space, and because of that, have developed cultures where other fans are drawn to them for what they represent. Remember that super cute Finn/Rey couple cosplay that went viral back in 2016? The cute moment was a reminder that these characters, who were firsts in their own right on multiple levels, captured the attention of fans who didn’t feel they could be the heroes in a franchise like Star Wars before the sequel trilogy.

Unfortunately, most Black cosplayers can’t just “be.” Despite the “for fun” element clear in the fact that cosplay is short for “costume play,” Black cosplayers aren’t allowed to dive headfirst into the escapist space of fandom. There’s always the reminder that we are seen as outsiders.

One of the biggest examples: When Black cosplayers do their best work, they’re told that the character they’re portraying “isn’t Black,” so it’s inauthentic of them to don the costume. Black and brown cosplayers are frequently relabeled as an “ethnic” version of their character, subject to hatred on the internet. As we saw with Vishavjit Singh’s Captain America and Chaka Cumberbatch-Tinsley’s Sailor Venus cosplays, many areforced to explain the “why” behind their choices and defend their interest in cosplay as a whole.

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