The Struggles And Triumphs Of Black Cosplay

The Struggles And Triumphs Of Black Cosplay
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Cosplay has always prided itself on its ability to transform fans into their heroes, wherever and whoever they are. In theory, at least. In practice, things haven’t always been that perfect, especially when a fan is black.

The cosplay scene is full of cool people who are committed to making sure everyone involved has a good time, but there’s no such thing as an official Cosplay Police Force. Like every other pursuit on Earth, arseholes can and do find their way into cosplay communities and discussions, and when they do, they do their damnedest to try and ruin things for anyone caught in their crosshairs.

While the problem of cosplayers being treated as meat is a widespread and well-publicised one, it’s not the only obstacle those in the scene face from jerks and bigots. From cosplay’s earliest days, black fans have faced constant struggles on multiple fronts, both as cosplayers and as people.

Cosplayer: Taylor Hobbs / Photographer: Kayhettin

Cosplayer: Taylor Hobbs / Photographer: Kayhettin

That’s not to say there aren’t prominent black cosplayers. Far from it. Indeed, some of the best cosplayers on the planet are folks like Knightmage and Chaka Cumberbatch. But the success of some doesn’t eliminate the struggles of others, nor somehow magically remove bullshit “criticism” of their own cosplay.

In an attempt to raise awareness of some of these issues, and to promote some of the fantastic work found in the community, a number of events and movements have emerged. One is the #29daysofblackcosplay hashtag on Twitter, which was started by Cumberbatch last year and acts as a spotlight and rallying point for amazing photos of amazing cosplayers.

Writing on Black Girl Nerds Chaka says that she hopes, after its initial success in 2015, that 2016’s version “will be a rallying call to arms for a group of people who are consistently subjected to derogatory comments and outright racism in response to doing little more than proudly displaying their love for this hobby.”

“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.”

Another showcase, timed like #29daysofblackcosplay to coincide with Black History Month, is a series of cosplay photo shoots that photographers Kayhettin and Anna Fischer have been working on.

Cosplayer: Don't Call Me Shirley / Photographer: Anna Fischer

Cosplayer: Don’t Call Me Shirley / Photographer: Anna Fischer

“This project got started when we were putting together a group shoot at Colossalcon“, Fischer tells Kotaku. “We were looking at tons of cosplayer applicants. Cosplayers we hadn’t worked with before, just this huge cross section of emerging cosplayers. And it sparked a conversation about what we were seeing, what we weren’t seeing and how we felt about it.”

“What we weren’t seeing was black people. And that was disappointing.”

So Fischer and Kayhettin decided to do something about it. “We wanted to reach an audience who might not be cosplaying yet, young people, or people who aren’t sure if they want to try it, who might be worried that they won’t fit in because of their colour. And we want to show them that they have a place, that they can be a part of us.”

Cosplayer: Torii Sev / Photographer: Anna Fischer

Cosplayer: Torii Sev / Photographer: Anna Fischer

All the images you see in this post, both above and below, are from this shoot.

Black cosplayers, Kayhettin says, are facing two main challenges. The first is that there aren’t “enough compelling black characters in the source material.” The second comes from the cosplay community at large, which he believes doesn’t do enough to “hold a line of defence against racists on the internet trolling black cosplayers for cosplaying as white and Asian characters.”

Both are long-running and entrenched issues, but there’s hope that progress is being made. Witness the explosion in popularity for one of the cosplayers featured in this project (KayBear) has experienced over the past few months, going from a complete unknown to budding cosplay superstar seemingly overnight. “The fact we found a girl like Kay, a black cosplayer with star power, is huge. There is a broader satisfaction as we watch her climb the ranks of social media stardom, transcending the usual joy we feel when a cosplayer we work with early in their development does well. She and women like her are changing the community, by showing fans and cosplayers alike that there are not just good ‘black cosplayers’ but there are just ‘good cosplayers’ who are also black.”

Cosplayer: KayBear / Photographer: Anna Fischer

Cosplayer: KayBear / Photographer: Anna Fischer

“We need more women like those in this feature. Because if we can just keep going, in five years, or ten years, or twenty years – one day being a ‘cosfamous’ black cosplayer or photographer won’t be an issue. We hope this project is a step down the road that brings that future closer.”

Here are the full credits for these shoots, along with links to check out more of their stuff.


Kayhettin | Anna Fischer


KayBear | Torii Sev | Don’t Call Me Shirley | Taylor Hobbs

And here are the rest of the photos from the shoots:

Cosplayer: Taylor Hobbs | Photographer: Kayhettin
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Kayhettin
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Kayhettin
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Kayhettin
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Kayhettin
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Kayhettin
Cosplayer: Don't Call Me Shirley | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: Don't Call Me Shirley | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: Kaybear | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: KayBear | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: Torii Sev | Photographer: Anna Fischer
Cosplayer: Torii Sev | Photographer: Anna Fischer


    • Heh is that in regards to a black person with a painted white face? It’s a sad state of affairs aint it when that’s the topic that immediately jumps to peoples mind.

      • Its just how crazy full blown political correctness has become, like im sure luke will take flack for bringing up the subject or even highlighting how it might be harder for a person with a different skin color to do cosplay. i agree it would be harder, but with that mindset ive just made myself appear racist. so you cant appreciate the struggle they have (which is a nice thing to do) without looking like the bad guy

        • i agree it would be harder, but with that mindset ive just made myself appear racist

          No you haven’t, you’re actually showing empathy towards a situation you can never fully experience yourself (assuming you’re white and middleclass like most Kotaku-AU readers) and this is neither racist nor offensive.

          It’s in the context and the way you express that empathy where it becomes racist and offensive. If you can emote this better, there would be no confusion.

          I suggest a few writing / debating classes if you want to learn how to express your opinions in such a way that you don’t get misconstrued.

      • Without really getting into the argument because it promises to be stupid:

        1) The white face on Moxxi is to evoke a clown/ringleader, not a race.
        2) Blackface is offensive because of its position as a tool of oppression (eg, minstrel shows, “sambo” figures, racial caricature), not just the “hey they have their face painted black!” factor.

        • What if you’re cosplaying as someone who performed blackface though like people who cosplay as Hitler or Stalin etc?

          • So your cosplay is ok as a racist caricature because its… someone portraying a racist caricature?


          • I don’t cosplay full stop. Other people do, People cosplay as whatever they want because they want to, it could be for fun or to evoke a reaction and either it’s going to happen is all I’m saying and asking.

          • Its inconsiderate of others, to say the least

            Blackface and other racial caricatures have been used to marginalise people for a very long time, and saying you’re doing it to “provoke a reaction” would be disingenuous at best.

            This is people’s racial identity. Race is not a costume to wear.

            Now, I’m not saying you can’t cosplay as a character who is a person of colour, you certainly can. You can do it, however, in a way that doesnt require “blacking up” or any other stuff like that. Hell, people cosplay as ethnically japanese anime characters all the time, and they dont need to engage in yellowface stuff

      • Yeah, it’s like black and white minstrels. So awful that white people can’t dress up as an aborigine but black people are free to dress up as fictional white characters.’


        But seriously, it’s pretty impossible not to offend someone, no matter what you do or don’t do. My advice – just be yourself. If people are offended then that is their problem.

        • These days it’s the outrage – it generates lots of money for the media companies. So they encourage it. Find something that offends someone (group, culture, race), find a picture,quote,etc of some poor bastard that probably didn’t even mean any offence to said people. Write some abstract article criticizing said poor bastard. Reap the reward of the chaos you’ve sown.

    • I would probably say that could be more of a where are the men in cosplay in general. Maybe it is to do with the coverage but I general consider the ‘cosplay community’ to be female driven.
      So if the black community is small, then the black male community would be smaller still.
      The other part is this is being driven by harassment as well, which is much more prevalent towards the women.

      Although maybe it is just my view of the community.

      • Honestly, it is just the coverage, there are a huge amount of men into cosplay, I know far more men than women in the scene…
        The Bro’s that sew don’t get as many pictures posted of them though, could be something to do with boobies getting more clicks.

        No denigration meant of female cosplayers, they do frigging amazing work, just a comment on the images that are generally posted by the media, it is usually gorgeous slim and/or busty women in great costumes, but very few images of the guys.

    • they’re all pretty freaking rad to be honest.

      the borderlands psycho is my favourite though. the make up on her body make it look properly cell-shaded

      • She has put so much effort into all her cosplays. If someone had a go at her near me, I would probably say something.
        I really like that she’s made it her own and hasn’t felt the need to lighten her skin tone to do them.

  • Race is only an issue when its pointed out. If people where judged on what they do, and not there race, it would be a none issue. The biggest problem I see is that the black community in the US, Aus and even Africa to an extent, as well as other places, make them self the targets by continuously going on about there black heritage, and slavery and so on.

    The only ‘black’ person that I have seen any common sense in is Raven-Symoné. She dose not call her self African-American. She calls her self an American. And she thinks the past should be left where it belongs, in the past. Yes, slavery is bad. Yes, we should remember it, and we should not do it again. BUT we should NOT let the past rule how we are today. The past was a different time with different ideas, and different cultural thinking. It is NOT today, and the fact that people keep using the past as an excuse to complain is just silly.

    I mean, really, if your born in a country, THAT is your nationality. I am not called an Irish-Australian, simply because I have Irish ancestors. I am Australian. Plain and simple.

    • Yep, it’s totally her fault multiple people called her a monkey and the N word, just from seeing a picture of her.

  • Look, I can’t speak for the Americans, but on behalf of Aboriginal people in Australia…. You do know that the Stolen Generations was still going on in the 1960s, right? (and technically still happens today)?

    That’s people who are alive and remember what happened to them and who are now still living with the consequences of trauma. It’s not about white people needing to feel guilty about those things that happened, it’s about everyone needing to consider the fact that human beings have been oppressed. It’s very nice that you decide not to identify with your Irish heritage, but perhaps some people would like to be able to choose and not have their cultural identity be erased.

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