Race + Fandom: When Defaulting To White Isn’t An Option

By Guest Contributor Kendra James

The Thursday before The Avengers premiered, I put on my Captain America USO Girl costume and headed down to Madame Tussauds in New York’s Times Square. I had very little idea what I was going to be doing there and only went initially because a call for Marvel cosplayers (people who dress up as various characters) had been put out for a photo-op by the museum. They were about to open their Avengers exhibit. Admittedly, I was nervous, as cosplaying without the guarantee of a friendly face in your corner can be nerve-wracking. Fandom doesn’t always have its head screwed on straight when it comes to the touching, ogling, and respect of female cosplayers.

The crowd wasn’t exactly what I was expecting–and I mean that in the best way possible.

Courtesy: Madame Tussauds New York

Though Iv’e long since learned that I’m not as alone in fandom as I once thought, the visual reminder was striking: Brown kids like science fiction and fantasy, too, and not only that: we can appreciate the chance to participate in this form of paracosmic play–a creative participation in fandom through cosplay, writing fanfiction, making fanvideos, otherwise engaging in wordplay and imaginative play–just as much as the next person.

Eight of the cosplayers there, including myself, were PoCs, and so were the overwhelming majority of the kids from the local daycare brought to see us and the exhibit. I’d run into some of the same cosplayers on an individual basis at various events around the city but never all at once, and I had no idea that they all knew each other. A few of them recognized me, but more refreshing was that they recognized and accepted the costume without question.

Cosplaying in and of itself can be stressful enough; I’ve definitely had convention days when I did not feel confident enough for tight spandex. But for non-white fans, the additional pressure felt when not playing a character of the same ethnicity can add an unspoken anxiety to the experience. It often feels like a white cosplayer can not only dress as their favorite characters of color but also do so in the most offensive way  without comment. But when a non-white cosplayer colors outside the lines in the same way, there’s a risk of getting an awkward look because–instead of seeing the costume–no matter how perfect it might be, others see the color of your skin and you can see the confusion in their eyes: Why is a black girl dressed as Zatanna?

Worse are the ones who aren’t confused, but then think they’re being inoffensively clever. You know there probably weren’t many Black USO Girls in the 1940s, right?” Or, my personal favorite, “Wonder Woman? I thought you would’ve done Nubia.

It’s an extension of the “default to white” privilege many fans still engage in on a regular basis.

It’s often not enough to describe a character as having “olive skin,” a la Katniss Everdeen. If you want your fandom to accept your non-white character they better have chocolate or mocha skin, almond eyes, or a spicy personality. If fandom isn’t specifically and immediately told that their favorite characters are PoCs, the assumption is whiteness. If fandom is later told that their beloved character is non-white, fandom erupts. The Blaise Zabini  incident of 2005, in which JK Rowling revealed that a semi-popular Harry Potter character who had always been considered handsome was Handsome While Being Black, was particularly enlightening.

Lest anyone think that was a one-off occurrence, let’s once again look to fans of The Hunger Games–I know you’re not all bad, but ya’ll really need to send someone to get your cousins. Their racist stripes came out again, this time over the potential casting of Jesse Williams as Finnick Odair in Catching Fire. Williams is “not how [they] pictured” Finnick Odair to look, despite the character description: tan/golden skin, incredible sea-green eyes, bronze hair, and handsome.

Courtesy: myhungergames.com

Works for me.

But with the missing mocha (or any other word relating to some kind of warm and/or spicy drink) descriptor fandom defaulted because, even when considering a fictional dystopia, white privilege is alive and well. Any kind of representation is hard-earned, as if we’re not a viable fanbase to be won over. As if it wouldn’t be nice to have more than a handful of characters per fandom to dress as without receiving a side-eye. As if we wouldn’t like to be encouraged to reap the same benefits that active fandom participation encourages.

An article in the April issue of Wired Magazine confirmed and put into words a theory I’ve always secretly harbored: young people who engage in paracosmic play are developing creative skills that pay off later in “real life.” The examples are numerous (is the upcoming novel-turned-movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter anything but a historical AU fanfic?), though the article cites the Brontë Sisters (best known for Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre) as a prime example of those who began writing early through creating and building upon imaginary worlds as children.

It now appears that, like the Brontës, kids who engage in paracosmic play are more likely to be creative as adults. In 2002 researchers Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein conducted an elegant study. They polled recipients of MacArthur “genius grants”–which reward those who’ve been particularly creative in areas as diverse as law, chemistry, and architecture–to see if they’d created paracosms as children. Amazingly, the MacArthur fellows were twice as likely as “normal” nongeniuses to have done so. Some fields were particularly rife with worldplayers: Fully 46 percent of the recipients polled in the social sciences had created paracosms in their youth.

The full study can be read here.

Courtesy: sodahead.com

When I started in online fandom in 1999, mostly writing fanfiction, I was always looking for relatable figures to participate with. Often I had to create them out of thin air, or widely embellish the often slim back-stories that side minority characters were given in my favorite fandoms. I was willing to do the legwork that Joss Whedon wasn’t for characters like Kendra (and, fortunate enough to even have a personal computer to engage with the fanfic communities) and, thanks to years of not being recognised in Halloween costumes, I’ve grown used to having to explain that I’m dressing as non-white characters and why I’m doing it. But what happens to the kid who isn’t encouraged to participate because the white default removes the impetus from the start?

Paracosmic play isn’t the only childhood activity that nurtures the development of creative skills, but for me the benefits are too great to ignore. Fandom turned me into a writer, taught me Photoshop, forced me to learn how to code by the age of 13, showed me the basics of web design, and helped set my course of study in college. All of these elements helped me score my first job after college. Spending years making the singer Monica look like Max from Batman Beyond for online role-playing paid off when I was asked to design ads for a Tony Award winner’s concert series. I can’t imagine what my own life would be like if fandom hadn’t shaped it the way it did, and I’m going to guess that there’re several white fans who would say the same. Luckily, they have a framework to participate in  that’s constructed specifically to cater to their needs.

Stefanie Brown’s pulled from Batgirl? Sure, it sucks and it’s a bad move on DC Comics’ part, but it’s not as if they’re lacking for white and blonde representation in the DC Universe. Pull Cassandra Cain, on the other hand, and the number of Asian heroes starring in their own books–not just in the DC Universe, but in all of mainstream comics–ticked back to zero in 2006 (soon to be back up to one when Cassandra returns in Batman: Gates of Gotham).

Courtesy: marvel.com

And so it goes: Williams can’t be Finnick because he “doesn’t look like” the character is described. He’s not Garrett Hedlund or white, period. Why on earth would I dress as Wonder Woman when there’s a black version I obviously should have done? How dare a woman of color think she can become She-Hulk?  Not only are PoCs underrepresented, being in fandom is sometimes too downright exhausting to stick around.

Fandom is not for every kid, and some are just genuinely more interested in baseball than they are in Harry Potter, and the singular case of Finnick Odair isn’t going to be the end of PoCs in fandom, but we need to see a change in these media spaces so that more young fans of color like the kids at Madame Tussaud’s are encouraged to reap the benefits of participatory fandom and paracosmic play.

Of course, the half the beauty of white privilege in fandom is never seeing or thinking of yourself rendered as unrealistic in a space that’s supposed to be unrealistic and fantastical to begin with. So what’s to change, right?

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  • Concerned Citizen

     I disagree. Ignorance or innocent of bad intent have been a tool of white privilege for too long. No, it’s not okay, for any reason to don blackface. If we leave it at that, there is no chance for confusion and hollow apologies after the fact.

  • Anonymous

    I’m the white mother of a white daughter who is deeply in love with Storm so I’m reading and listening, but also resonating to the line about non-white characters not being recognized. 

    But also, that link to the Zoe costume: WTF, fellow white people, what is this *thing* about blackface??? 

    My kid draws Storm, paints Storm, writes poems and stories about Storm, begs for Storm toys and complains bitterly about the lack of Storm comics…you get the idea.  I’m not sure how I’d feel about racial appropriation if she was choosing one character among many, but in her case, there is Storm, and then there is everything else that exists in the world.  There simply was not another character that she could be for Halloween.  Ready-made Storm costumes exist for kids, but they’re miserably awful, so I made her one: it was my first venture into cosplay, and at no point did it cross my mind to me to put dark make-up on her.  Anyone who knew the character recognized her immediately, even as depicted by a white girl with massively curly brown hair (wig=too scratchy…I still think the wig would have really made the costume, but oh, well). 

    What has been sad for both of us has been to discover–as she continued wearing the headband all year long, everywhere she went, in the way of first-graders in love with comic book characters–is just how few people DO know the character. 

  • http://transitionsandtransgressions.wordpress.com/ Xeginy

    I think the point the author was trying to make is that despite the fact that She-Hulk has green skin, since white is the default, the assumption is that if She-Hulk ever did not have green skin, she would have light skin; certainly not brown skin.

  • Guest

    I hope they do cast Jesse Williams as Finnick Odair because that’s exactly how I pictured him to look like. Plus I think he can pull off Odair’s personality.

  • http://www.alisondiem.com/ Alison Diem

    This is kind of periphrial to the point, but did you ever see the artwork of Gina Torres as Wonder Woman?  I thought it was brilliant- I would love to see her in a movie or TV show as that character.  I’ve never understood the mindset that just because the character starts out white (in comics, movies, or TV where we can see them), doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.  I would love to see someone take on the Superman mythos, but it he were black.  Kind of like they did in “Red Son”, where he landed in the USSR, I’d love to see if Superman had been anything but white- how would that have worked?  If it has already been done, I would LOVE to read it.

    • Ally

      Ohmygosh, Gina Torres would be a PERFECT Wonder Woman!

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  • Rengeko

    late to the game, as always-my response to anyone bitching about “unsuitable” cosplay character selection-IT’S FICTION.  like there was nothing wrong with idris elba as heimdall.  now, i would be quite offended if josh brolin were to play martin luther king jr, but fiction is malleable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dalyarogue Christine Rincon

    Oh yes, i feel this pressure every halloween. I’m obsessed with Wonder Woman and i’m a darker skinned latina girl, and you know what? I DO IT ANYWAY. Black Lara Croft? Check! Black Silk Spectre? Check! Black Miranda Lawson (From Mass Effect 3)? Hopefully next year. Done, Done, and will do. My boyfriend says it every year. “You’re not white, they’re not gonna know who you are.” And yes, i am made to feel a little regret when i walk out in my costume. “Why did i do this? I’m not a white girl.” I think. But this article made me see that it is a damn shame that I can’t dress up as my heroes on halloween! Cheers to you for writing this article, as a Female of Color fan of comics and video games (is this a very small market? I’m not sure, lol) i thank you!

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  • Anonymous

    Haven’t paid any attention to the Hunger Games casting issues (aside from the sickening, horrifying reactions to Rue being cast in the movie as a black girl, just as she was in the books), but OMG Jesse Williams as Finnick Odair, as soon as I read it I said YES.  I don’t know who that white dude is but I know who Jesse Williams is and he would be absolutely perfect and AS DESCRIBED.  I think I’ll be pretty upset, actually, if they pick some random white guy over him so as not to upset the sadly apparently large parts of the Hunger Games fan base that are terrible.  – white woman

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  • MPL

    Great job articulating what so many of us have been struggling with for years.  The Halloween costume bit really hit home for me. Growing up, I too was never recognized because, while everyone was perfectly willing to imagine my best friend as a 3-foot 11-inch Batman, evidently my Superman with curly hair and tan skin was far beyond anyone’s ability to suspend disbelief.

    Of course, you don’t even have to be “in costume” to be mis-recognized: two years ago I was hosting an event at a sci-fi convention so I decide to go formal in my dark suit and favorite skinny tie. All night, people were running up to me yelling “Hah! Jules from Pulp Fiction!”
    No, I didn’t have a horseshoe mustache.
    No, I didn’t have a perm.
    No, I wasn’t hanging out with John Travolta.
    I was just a black guy in a suit.

    I so disliked having to justify myself as “brown Superman” that I have largely avoided costumes since childhood but, as it turns out, that doesn’t necessarily fix things. I look nothing like Samuel L. Jackson. Heck, given my attire, it would have been equally appropriate for people to run up to and yell “Hah! Agent Dale Cooper!” and I might have put up with that. But, being one of four black people (out of four thousand attendees) at a sci-fi convention and having every person who sees you make a pointed issue of your race is pretty isolating.

    Fantasy can make people dragons, vampires, and magic wands a reality but black people participating without being confined by their race: that’s just *too fantastic an idea.

  • http://quiltingqueer.tumblr.com/ doughts

    I don’t know if I am comfortable giving money to the Hunger Games movies, after all of the racism that has been involved… I’m all for strong female characters, but I’d really rather have strong female characters without racism. 

  • Stela

    I love that you’ve put into words how I felt every year at Halloween when I’d end up staring at the Party City costume wall for a good ten or fifteen minutes wondering if this was the year I’d work up the nerve to be ‘black Supergirl’ or ‘black Batgirl’ before losing the nerve and picking something racially non-descript.  Every year.  Every single year. 

    Speaking as one of those kids you’re talking about (and past-me is so jealous that they got to see all of you in costume and experience communal geekdom at that age), that feeling of apprehension -like you’re overstepping some invisible line of “this for you” and “this is for them”- is an absolutely real and occasionally absolutely crushing thing to a 7-12 year old developing nerd.

  • Terence Ng

    I think another interesting concept is “passing”. As an Asian man, I’ve dressed as Rule 63 Jubilee, but also as the Caucasian, French-Canadian Northstar. Obviously, I’m “allowed” to do this because my skin tone generally aligns with Northstar’s. 

    Part of my cosplay is just because I like the characters–Jubilee, Northstar, Hellion–but the other part is born out of the constraint of limited Asian characters. (Seriously, in Marvel, I’ve got Amadeus Cho, Jubilee, and Sunfire…and that’s it, and there’s no way I can pull off a Rule 63 Psylocke.) It’s frustrating, and the fear is that indeed, I’ll want to dress as say, Cyclops or some other character and be given the same odd stare you mention.But I wonder what the conversation about race and the racism inherent in the idea of acceptably “passing” in cosplay is for people like myself or other light-skinned PoC, especially given the historical context of passing in general.

  • Kit M.

    There were *plenty* of black USO girls in the 1940s. >:(

    I love this post, and the picture at the top makes me super happy.

     

  • Anonymous

    What’s disturbing to me is that race matters just SO MUCH to some people that changing a character from white to non-white is enough to destroy their affection for that character.

    If this happens in fictional worlds, what manifestations of this racism (yes, it’s racism) are present in real life?

  • http://mullenkamp.wordpress.com Zaratha

    This is a really great article. I’ve been cosplaying and attending cons for years and years, and I completely understand the feelings of isolation and frustration being a geek of color trying to navigate fandom sometimes. I still remember the dirty looks I got as a black girl cosplaying blonde Integra Hellsing at AnimeNext, going on 7 years later. But as the Storm up there in the photo, I really do want to give props to our local cosplay community. Maybe it’s because we’re in NYC and our town is diverse anyway, but it seems like the majority of cosplayers I know/hang out with are also POC and I’ve felt so supported in fandom since I got more involved locally. That’s not to say people don’t get ignorant, but for the most part the shade is thrown by non-cosplayers or people not connected to the local scene. It’s mostly douchebags on the internet, and if one gets attacked then people are sure to have your back. Even so, I still feel that pressure…on one hand, I love cosplaying black & brown characters, because we get so few and they are rarely cosplayed. OTOH, I still feel nervous sometimes when cosplaying white characters because I know I will get that extra scrutiny about being “inaccurate” regardless of how on point my actual costume is.

  • http://profiles.google.com/shoomlah Claire Hummel

    Fantastic, fantastic article- cross-race cosplay has always been weighted SO heavily in favour of pretty young white girls, and so I love seeing such a succinct writeup of the issue.

    Bookmarking this so I can reference it in heated discussions,
    -C

  • http://profiles.google.com/shoomlah Claire Hummel

    Fantastic, fantastic article- cross-race cosplay has always been weighted SO heavily in favour of pretty young white girls, and so I love seeing such a succinct writeup of the issue.

    Bookmarking this so I can reference it in heated discussions,
    -C

  • Elusis

    As if it wouldn’t be nice to have more than a handful of characters per fandom to dress as without receiving a side-eye.

    I hear you. Fat women have a similar struggle, though we don’t even have the token handful.  Good blog post on it here:  http://doctorher.com/?p=923

  • Guest

    As a huge fan of Zoe from Firefly, the linked picture made me yell at my computer in an empty house. Also, not that it would matter because adaptions can change the appearance of the characters, but Jesse Williams is exactly as described as Finnick Odair. Exactly. Which is a really good thing for fans of the series who don’t like changes made to their favourite books! So it pains me that anyone is saying he’s not right for the part. 

  • http://www.zyphon.com willbradley

    Excellent and eye opening piece! Media should create a more multiethnic cast. Regarding cosplay though, the focus is frequently on accuracy (you know how nerds are) so one piece of an accurate portrayal would be some acknowledgment of the character’s biology. Green contact lenses, wigs, and yes makeup to account for skin tone.

    I’m a white male and so uniquely unqualified to have an opinion on this (yay!) but I don’t see much offensive about the Firefly cosplay considering that, again and unfortunately, she wouldn’t really be recognized as that specific character because her skin was too light. Her makeup application seemed well done and not overdone (I was cringing waiting for blackface or something but she just looks really tanned) — enough to indicate.

    I think it’d totally be appropriate among fandom for a darker person to wear somewhat-lighter makeup to achieve accuracy in portraying the character; darker-skinned people aren’t alone here (other than the limited dark-skinned options which I totally agree with– but that’s a writer problem not a fandom problem.) Your average caucasian might wear white makeup to be a vampire or to play a princess known for their pearly skin. They might wear green or blue or black makeup to be your favorite alien. Instances of white people playing brown people are rare, but I think should be celebrated just as much as when dark brown people play white people.

    Now if you find makeup distasteful, I think there’s a place to own your own skin color and be positive about it; a learning experience perhaps. Why not be a “black Wonder Woman?” Maybe a well-planned accessory could indicate that yes, you know your skin doesn’t match, and yes that might be intentional. (Rasta colors and hair picks would be over the top but I’m pretty sure that’s how they did it in the less-nuanced past. For example: if you were Chinese and wanted to make Wonder Woman your own, you might consider asian-styled “wonder woman” clothes instead of the typical leotard.)

    The above itself may sound offensive; if so I’m sorry. Healing requires mutual understanding and this is me putting my perspective out there hoping to continue the conversation and explore ways to cosplay other skin colors in a nonconfusing way.

    I realized I do have some first hand experience here; I once cosplayed Louis from Left 4 Dead. I’m pretty sure I quipped just as much about being Louis and not some guy wearing a tie, and my lack of color (“haha, white Louis!”) as a black Bill would have about not being white. The only saving grace was when I was near my group so people could make the connection in their mind. Without an ensemble, people probably would’ve thought I just dressed up instead of tried to cosplay.

    So while I totally want more strong nonwhite characters and for fans to be less head-up-their-ass, I think the cosplay thing is in your hands, with accuracy on one end, new ethnic interpretations on the other end, and “uhhh Sean of the Dead except with red hair?” in the middle.

    • trickstermakesthisworld

      No. Blackface is not appropriate, ever. Even if there is a PoC-become-White equivalent. I do not care how ‘odd’ your cosplay looks without it. I do not care how inaccurate it may be. 

      If you feel that you absolutely must do blackface in order to have the full cosplay experience, maybe you ought to reconsider who you’re cosplaying. Seriously, it’s not like there isn’t an absolutely mind-bogglingly large amount of white characters to pick from.

      Yes, the ‘ethnic indicator’ twist to white characters is stupid and offensive beyond all measure. Trust me, if a person of color cosplays a white character, WE KNOW. Everyone freakin’ KNOWS. A Chinese Wonder Woman or a black Edward Elric does not need anything else to say ‘HEY, I’M NOT WHITE. GUYS. IN CASE YOU MISSED IT, I’M NOT WHITE. BECAUSE I’M NOT WHITE’. Our costumes are already nitpicked at for being ‘inaccurate’ just because they are on our bodies. To that I say, hell no. When I cosplay a character, I am cosplaying the freakin’ character, NOT a cheap alternate-universe knock-off. By virtue of it being on my non-white ass doesn’t mean that it is less of an accurate cosplay. It doesn’t become a gimmick. By virtue of me wearing this cosplay doesn’t demean my appreciation, work, or depiction of this character. Thus it doesn’t need an ‘explanation’. 

      Here’s how it works. A white person decides to latch onto the (few) nonwhite characters to cosplay. Okay, so far, so good. Whatever. I cannot tell you how many white Lusts, Scars, Tsumes, and Storms I’ve high-fived for awesomeness. Nerd solidarity is at full 100%. 

      Now, if that white person takes that cosplay into blackface/brownface/yellowface/redface territory, we have a problem. Because now you’re applying physical features that I deal with every day. I will never trade in my Pinoy/Mexican features, not ever, so where does that leave me? Wearing this face, in this skin, all the time, all day, every day, and dealing with the utter crap that society throws my way for it. I will not enumerate, but let’s start at ground zero: the fact that I have to even stroll down this merry lane of having jack shit to pick from as far as cosplaying goes because the majority of characters are white. Let’s start with that. 

      So, you see, the brown skin that white cosplayers apply to themselves? It’s hard fucking work. Except white cosplayers get to take it off with some makeup remover at the end of the day. I do not have (nor do I want) such a luxury. Blackface/redface/brownface/yellowface essentially means you get use my facial features and skin color for fun, but you don’t have to deal with the long-term consequences. Consequences that, I might add, are perpetuated by – dundundundun – white people. How do you not see how this is offensive and wrong, no matter how ‘well-applied’ it is?

      Nerddom might be a whole separate universe of omgsolidarity and omgfun for you. For me and other fandom-involved PoC? The minefields which perpetuate ‘general culture’ do not stop once you get that con badge. Sometimes, they get worse. Like when some white person decides to give us a proverbial middle finger by painting themselves in black/brown/red/yellowface as they cosplay one. of. the. few. PoC. characters. out. there.

      Chri

    • http://twitter.com/wriglied Piper

      Thanks for reading! And yes, I agree, cosplay does require some measure of accuracy in order to work. That said, that accuracy never expands to blackface, yellowface, redface, or any other type of makeup that’s been historically used to demean PoCs and has all around negative connotations. (My views on Blackface as used by white people in general are pretty steadfast, and can be seen here: 
      http://www.racialicious.com/2012/02/29/all-things-old-hollywood-blackface-at-the-oscars/; long story short, it’s not something I excuse under any circumstance.)

      You can get that accuracy you speak of without any kind of skin altering makeup. Check out this cosplayer (http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lozib6eHY21r0x90jo1_500.jpg) who is, quite obviously, a character from Sailor Moon. She didn’t need to lighten her skin for anyone to realise that, and any comment about the cosplay that involves her skin color would be entirely unnecessary.  It’s about the costume, not the color of your skin. 

      As for ‘making the character your own’, IMO you do that as soon as you put on your costume. It’s YOUR interpretation of your favorite character. If you’re a white girl (for guy, for that matter) who’s favorite character is Zoe from Firefly, cosplay the heck out of her as far as I’m concerned! Wear her costume– not her skin color. If I see a Zoe costume (or have it explained to me that it’s a Zoe costume), I’m going to know and accept that it’s a Zoe costume no matter who’s in it. My absolute favorite character is Barbara Gordon –a white redhead– and one day I’m probably going to do a Batgirl cosplay, and it’s just  going to be a Batgirl cosplay. Sans ‘rasta colors and hair picks’ (and that’s ALL I’m going to say about that line, ’cause hoo boy, that was just a lot…). I totally support anyone who wants to restyle the costume of their favorite character in order to reflect their own background, but it’s definitely not something that PoC cosplayers should be expected to do in order to have their costumes treated with the same respect as everyone else. 

      As for your own experience… congratulations: You got a taste of what PoC cosplayers go through on a regular basis. 

      • http://twice-immigrant.livejournal.com/ CaitieCat

         See – as a white woman? I don’t think it’s okay for me to cosplay Zoe.  Because there *are* so few roles for actors of colour, or fans who are PoC, I won’t ever cosplay as Storm, or Zoe, or Katara, despite how much I love each of those three characters to bits & bytes.  For me, it feels like colonialism to invade that small space, when there’re a lot more roles I can easily pick from, even as a fat-and-muscular woman.

        And OMG I am now going to have to image-search for a POC as Edward Elric, because I’m in the middle of falling in love with that whole universe, and that would be Pretty Damn Awesome.  I’ve been thinking of painting some portrats of characters from that series, now I’m thinking I might reimagine some of them as POC.  Roy Mustang as Han, maybe, or Edward and Alphonse (and Hohenheim) as Black men…I like this idea.

        • Anonymous

          See, I don’t agree with that. As a black male, I feel it shouldn’t matter what race or ethnic background you have. If you’re a fan of a character, you have every right to cosplay and portray that character, no matter the race. And yes, black/yellow/redface is completely wrong, but I don’t see anyone trying to alter their height or any other physical attribute to that of their character. Cosplay is all about celebrating characters. Period. 
          Plus that line of thinking is all too close to the “whites only”, “blacks only” mentality, and I think we should all be moving away from that. 

          • Ursa Major

             I follow the same train of thought as CaitieCat.  Sure, my friends and I get would understand that I’m not trying to race lift a PoC character (I’m a white female), as would anyone I talked to at a con, but the intentions are lost on passersby.  Anyone looking at photos online sans context would probably see whitewashing.  Hopefully in the future this won’t be such a big deal, but right now racism is still too virulent; I don’t want to contribute to it just to make myself happy for a single con weekend.

    • http://twitter.com/wriglied Piper

      Thanks for reading! And yes, I agree, cosplay does require some measure of accuracy in order to work. That said, that accuracy never expands to blackface, yellowface, redface, or any other type of makeup that’s been historically used to demean PoCs and has all around negative connotations. (My views on Blackface as used by white people in general are pretty steadfast, and can be seen here: 
      http://www.racialicious.com/2012/02/29/all-things-old-hollywood-blackface-at-the-oscars/; long story short, it’s not something I excuse under any circumstance.)

      You can get that accuracy you speak of without any kind of skin altering makeup. Check out this cosplayer (http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lozib6eHY21r0x90jo1_500.jpg) who is, quite obviously, a character from Sailor Moon. She didn’t need to lighten her skin for anyone to realise that, and any comment about the cosplay that involves her skin color would be entirely unnecessary.  It’s about the costume, not the color of your skin. 

      As for ‘making the character your own’, IMO you do that as soon as you put on your costume. It’s YOUR interpretation of your favorite character. If you’re a white girl (for guy, for that matter) who’s favorite character is Zoe from Firefly, cosplay the heck out of her as far as I’m concerned! Wear her costume– not her skin color. If I see a Zoe costume (or have it explained to me that it’s a Zoe costume), I’m going to know and accept that it’s a Zoe costume no matter who’s in it. My absolute favorite character is Barbara Gordon –a white redhead– and one day I’m probably going to do a Batgirl cosplay, and it’s just  going to be a Batgirl cosplay. Sans ‘rasta colors and hair picks’ (and that’s ALL I’m going to say about that line, ’cause hoo boy, that was just a lot…). I totally support anyone who wants to restyle the costume of their favorite character in order to reflect their own background, but it’s definitely not something that PoC cosplayers should be expected to do in order to have their costumes treated with the same respect as everyone else. 

      As for your own experience… congratulations: You got a taste of what PoC cosplayers go through on a regular basis. 

    • http://twitter.com/Ellington3 Rhonda Yearwood

      Yes willbradley some of what you have said is offensive. You say “if so  I am sorry”, my question is are you really sorry and do you understand why you should be sorry for saying such things?
      Adding cultural stereotypes to costumes is just so obtuse for you to suggest. 
      What makes Wonder Woman’s costume ‘white” she is Themyscrian, what is white about that?
      Amazons come in many shades and are not all white.
      So your suggesting an Asian stylized Wonder Woman costume is rather obtuse and smacks of the insipid.
      But in saying that when you say maybe dress up as Batman or which ever Super catches your cosplay fancy do  you say wear a kilt, have a bat- bagpipe have a bat-caber? No?!!!
      Quel Surprise.
       

    • http://twitter.com/Ellington3 Rhonda Yearwood

      Yes willbradley some of what you have said is offensive. You say “if so  I am sorry”, my question is are you really sorry and do you understand why you should be sorry for saying such things?
      Adding cultural stereotypes to costumes is just so obtuse for you to suggest. 
      What makes Wonder Woman’s costume ‘white” she is Themyscrian, what is white about that?
      Amazons come in many shades and are not all white.
      So your suggesting an Asian stylized Wonder Woman costume is rather obtuse and smacks of the insipid.
      But in saying that when you say maybe dress up as Batman or which ever Super catches your cosplay fancy do  you say wear a kilt, have a bat- bagpipe have a bat-caber? No?!!!
      Quel Surprise.
       

    • http://twitter.com/Ellington3 Rhonda Yearwood

      Yes willbradley some of what you have said is offensive. You say “if so  I am sorry”, my question is are you really sorry and do you understand why you should be sorry for saying such things?
      Adding cultural stereotypes to costumes is just so obtuse for you to suggest. 
      What makes Wonder Woman’s costume ‘white” she is Themyscrian, what is white about that?
      Amazons come in many shades and are not all white.
      So your suggesting an Asian stylized Wonder Woman costume is rather obtuse and smacks of the insipid.
      But in saying that when you say maybe dress up as Batman or which ever Super catches your cosplay fancy do  you say wear a kilt, have a bat- bagpipe have a bat-caber? No?!!!
      Quel Surprise.
       

    • Beth

      As a black woman, I have to say that you’re right. You really are “so uniquely unqualified to have an opinion on this”. Don’t let the door hit on the way out.

    • Beth

      As a black woman, I have to say that you’re right. You really are “so uniquely unqualified to have an opinion on this”. Don’t let the door hit on the way out.

    • Anonymous

       Err. Though honky myself, this made me cringe. ”I’m a white male and so uniquely unqualified to have an opinion on this (yay!) but…” – followed by paragraph after paragraph of offensive advice and condescending explanations for those who are infinitely more qualified than you, nevertheless. My, oh my.

      • Anonymous

         Though I get your sentiment, and that’s why your comment was approved, please be advised that “honky,” like any other derogatory term, won’t be accepted here in the future. Let’s steer clear of that in the future, please.

        • Anonymous

           Sure thing.

    • Ally


      Instances of white people playing brown people are rare, but I think should be celebrated just as much as when dark brown people play white people.”

      The problem with this is that instances of white people playing brown people are NOT rare – the “race-lifting” of characters for films that are likely to get a larger audience than the original material is so prevalent that there’s a whole website devoted to it (Racebending) and a whole page on TV Trope (Race Lift). On the other hand, I can only think of one instance off the top of my head where an originally white character was played by a POC actor (Will Smith playing the lead in I Am Legend). I understand this deviates a little from the original cosplay argument, but you need to be aware of the background of these issues, and how hugely underrepresented POC are in popular culture, before you make those kinds of statements.

      You also need to be aware of the power dynamics behind the issues explored in this article. I definitely agree it should be celebrated when POC take on roles traditionally seen as exclusively for white people – whether it’s being the lead character in a popular film, or cosplaying a famous character. But when white people play a POC role, IT IS NOT THE SAME. We live in a society where whiteness is seen as the norm, the gold standard. Main characters, significant characters, are almost exclusively white – we have no goddamn right to muscle in on the few popular characters that aren’t, and then whine that we’re being victimised (hah!) because POC point out that we’re being entitled and insensitive. 

      And, as others have said, blackface is blackface no matter how “well” it’s done. If I put on fake tan because I want to look like a white person who can actually tan (as opposed to my usual pasty self), that’s fine. If I put on fake tan because I’m pretending to be black, that’s a whole other issue.