Chaka Cumberbatch, freelance writer and xoJane contributor, has recently written a fascinating article about being a black cosplayer and how she often is subjected to racism because of this.
Cumberbatch says; “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.”
Cumberbatch explains that she has been cosplaying since 2008 and it has taken her all over the U.S. to as many different conventions as was financially possible. She says that she has had some awesome experiences as a cosplayer and made so many friends because of it but the problems arise when she chooses to cosplay a character that isn’t black.
In 2010, Cumberbatch cosplayed Sailor Venus (her favorite character from her favorite cosplay Sailor Moon) at the A-Kon 21 annual anime convention in Dallas. She went to series-specific photoshoot for Sailor Moon where she got chatting to a photographer who took a picture of her as Sailor Venus. That picture became infamous as it was the one that went on several blog and forum posts which argued “whether or not black people should cosplay outside of their race.”
The photographer put the original image up on Tumblr with the caption “For a black cosplayer (not to be racist) she did an amazing job!” though it was later edited to include “I love her skin tone” after pandemonium ensued!!
For Cumberbatch, it is the first 4 words of the statement that stick with her, “for a black cosplayer”, she says “as if the bar was set lower for us, as if we weren’t expected to perform on the same level as white cosplayers.”
Cumberbatch says that the post was reblogged, linked and referenced countless times and says that even 3 years later, people still bring it up at cons! She said that that picture of her as Sailor Venus became the face of the cosplay race debate online.
She says that what really “kills” her, is the fact that in person no one will question whether darker-skinned people should cosplay light skinned characters, but “online is a completely different animal”. Online Cumberbatch says she became “Nigger Venus” or “Sailor Venus Williams”, she had a “face like a gorilla”, the size of her lips and nose were commented on and she wasn’t suited “for such a cute character” because she is black! Apparently her wig was ghetto, because she was “making it ghetto” simply by being black and wearing it on her head!
Cumberbatch claims that the nature of the insults she received were bad enough to scare interested cosplayers from ever getting involved. She cites an Indian friend, who would only ever cosplay Indian characters simply because she saw the way people attacked Cumberbatch’s cosplay online.
She claims that much of the time, when she called up these racism slurs, many claimed that it is all about “accuracy” and state that in order to “look better” one should stick with choosing characters “in your range”. Cumberbatch says that this rationale is often also used to criticize and shut down plus-size cosplayers too.
But here’s the important point, Cumberbatch says;
“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.”
Cumberbatch admits that when you partake in a visual hobby like cosplay, you have to be able to take a certain amount of criticism and she says she has got a thick enough skin to deal with digs at the fabric she uses, wigs, poses and anything else, but not the color of her skin!
She claims to be thankful for the black cosplay community’s encouraging blogs and forums and the support received from Gail Simone – current writer of DC’s Batgirl. She says that she believes people need to remember 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.”