Op-Ed: Black Cosplay is Magical

April 19, 2022

As a kid, I always wanted to be a superhero. Armed with a vivid imagination, a blanket tied around my neck, and my parents’ bed as a launching pad when I flew in the air, besting baddies and conquering evil in a one-room shack was more than recreation. It was an escape from a world better than the one I lived in. Where I was in control of my reality and unfuckwitable every step of the way—youthful naivete be damned.

 This is every child’s cosplay origin story.

 “When I’m in cosplay, I feel empowered, fearless, and beautiful. There is a relatable significance to each character I choose,” says Aaliyah Mason, who has been huge on the cosplay scene for over a decade. The Detroit native’s passion for playing dress-up and emulating her favorite characters—from Spider-Woman to Mortal Kombat’s Jade to Olivia Pope—has garnered the model and anime fan attention from outlets who give their flowers.

 Still, as a Black woman playing imaginary characters, harsh realities occur that pollute the fantasy world.

 “Due to the lack of ethnic diversity in entertainment media, Black cosplayers face discrimination on a daily basis,” she says. “Many Black cosplay artists and creatives will agree there’s a lack of representation and a stigma within the cosplay community for people of color. There is racism, gatekeeping, and elitism, and Black cosplayers are usually the target.”

 In 2019, before doom and gloom engulfed the world, over 250K people invaded Manhattan’s Jacob Javitz Convention Center for New York Comic-Con. The year prior, some of the Black attendees voiced their feelings about “Cosplaying While Black.”

  “We’ve had tons of issues in real life and online, where people will say, ‘oh, you can’t cosplay that character because your skin’s too dark,” Izzy Saeko said on the clip. “When in reality, it’s racist. I can cosplay whoever I want regardless of skin tone.”

 But, much to the chagrin of keyboard warriors who cried bloody murder in 2015 when actor John Boyega was revealed as a Black Stormtrooper in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Blerd culture (Black Nerds, for the unknowledgeable) is increasing its powers as conversations about inclusion in movies, TV, comics and video games continues.    

 “Everyone has a story, and we can all be superheroes in our own right,” said Michael James, co-founder of AfroComicCon, a three-day event in the Bay area celebrating comics and pop culture through the Black lens. Created in 2017 by James and Hally Bellah-Guther, AfroComicCon might not reach Comic-Con attendance numbers nationwide, but what they provide is “a platform to showcase and empower artists who have historically been denied access to equal opportunity.”

 And for Black cosplayers, those words hold as much weight as “truth, justice, and the American way.” At the end of the day, they just want to tap into their inner child and escape from a world better than they’re living in and control their realities without judgment. “A lot of things need to change,” Mason begins. “One small step is genuinely supporting one another, not having the crabs in a barrel mentality and clout chasing behavior. Cosplay is literally defined as costume play. Regardless of if it’s homemade, commissioned, or store-bought. Cosplay your way and have fun with it!