By Muniyra Douglas
A few years ago, it wasn’t a shock if you didn’t see images of Black people performing cosplay. It was normal. But with the passion and hard work from some amazing, trailblazing cosplayers, these images are more readily available. Cosplay is costume roleplay, typically performed at festivals like Comicon and Anime North. Super fans get a chance to dress up as their favorite sci-fi, fantasy, anime, and comic book characters. For some, cosplay culture is their life - it is part of their identity.
Although, it isn’t saturated with members of the Black community, the increase of players – especially from women – has surged. Instagram has contributed to the popularization of Black cosplayers. It provides users the opportunity to attract followers based on their likes and interests. It has helped connect a niche audience within the online Black community, ultimately contributing to the normalcy of Black cosplayers within the subculture.
Kiera Please is a recognizable face in the cosplay community and throughout Instagram. Well known for her vibrant costumes, playful behaviour and for some, she is also known as one of the first to popularize and normalize Black cosplayers. Featured in Essence magazine, The Huffington Post, Seventeen and Cosmopolitan, Kiera contributes to the normalization of the Black identity within this traditionally, non-Black realm.
“When we call out racism in this subculture, we are often ridiculed, silenced and told to make a space of our own if we want to see our faces.”
It’s pivotal to understand that there are industries and (sub)cultures where Black people don’t normally exist. Within the cosplay culture and the Black community, players may face fear of rejection, ridicule, and racial and ethnic marginalization. However, representation in the realm of cosplay has spawned the awakening of countless visible, Black cosplay actors.
Despite the generally positive reception, Black cosplayers still face bigotry and racism within the culture. Such deeply ingrained marginalization and racism is weaved into the fabric of traditionally non-Black spaces. However, the landscape is certainly changing for the safe inclusion of women and visibly non-White identities. The less radicalized the concept of Black cosplayers becomes, the more opportunities are created for underrepresented images.
Chaka Cumberbatch, prominent cosplayer, writes for Black Girl Nerds, a website dedicated to Black girls and women embracing all things nerdom saying: “When we call out racism in this subculture, we are often ridiculed, silenced and told to make a space of our own if we want to see our faces. Challenge accepted. This is how we’ll represent ourselves. This is how we’ll uplift each other. This is how we will make this hobby open, inclusive and welcoming to everyone."