‘Shades of Cosplay’ explores the black cosplay experience

In 2015, Cheyenne filmmaker Ewulu released a black cosplay documentary called cosplay shades. The documentary looked at the lives of four black cosplayers and how they navigated the cosplay scene, addressing issues of racism and a lack of inclusion in certain spaces. The film premiered at Magfest’s “Games on Film” event in 2016 and has not been seen since.

Until now.

cosplay shades brings together four black cosplayers to talk about their experiences with racism within the cosplay space and the changes they hope to see in the future. Interviewees include: Kira (Firaga Fox Cosplay), Chaka Cumberbatch (creator of #28DaysOfBlackCosplay), Camille Duale, and Kyle Mason.

trailer breakdown

The trailer is a mix of footage of black cosplayers showing off their cosplay and realizing that everyone has experience with people who don’t agree with them pretending to be cartoon characters because they’re black. From panels where black geeks talk about thinking there wasn’t anyone they could cosplay because they’re black and plus size, to wanting to see more featured black cosplayers in geek spaces, the trailer reminds me of the conversations we had in the beginning. movements like #28DaysOfBlackCosplay and long before it became an annual thing in February.

What Ewulu does well is have these sound bites played on black cosplayers who are actually here trying to have a good time. From my own personal experience with cosplay (which is over a decade old at this point), all we really want to do is be able to dress up as Sailor Moon without having to worry about triggering ongoing ban hammers on our pages. We want to be able to see ourselves represented whenever a space claims to want more diverse headliners, and not just when it’s a hot topic.

There are still quite a few people who are surprised to find out that black cosplayers deal with bullying because “Twilight Sparkle isn’t black”, even if Twilight Sparkle is a pony. However, I understand. You’d think a bunch of nerds collecting JoAnn Fabric coupons to make outfits based on fictional characters would focus on that instead of telling someone a fantasy pony isn’t black, but here we are.

Worst part? Black cosplayers come to cosplay already mentally preparing for the backlash.

Why cosplay shades still relevant today

“It’s 2022 and I don’t cosplay anymore, but at the time of making this movie, I was very passionate about it. And I noticed how all my friends of color, specifically my black friends, would be treated within the community,” says Ewulu, who produced the film. “I remember one time I was dressed as Korra, from the legend of korra, and someone came up to me in a con and told me that I was a little too dark to be Korra. Keep in mind that Korra is about as brunette as she can get.”

While it’s true that the documentary was last seen in 2016, black cosplayers continue to receive comments like the one Ewulu mentions. The comment you reference is particularly discouraging since Korra is a brunette character. Comments like that can, and do, dissuade black geeks from wanting to try cosplaying, plus there are plenty of black geeks who assume that hypocrisy cosplay because they don’t have as many characters that fit their looks.

When I first decided to cosplay, I thought I had to find a character that was black and plus size, but there weren’t many options and probably still aren’t. So that part of the trailer blew me away because that’s exactly how I felt, and how I’m sure other cosplayers like me feel when the conversation comes up.

“You can dress up as anyone you want” is the general response, but you can’t help but wonder how true that is when you see some of the reactions people have to a black girl dressing up.

Throughout my time in the cosplay community, there was a lot of talk about cosplay being for everyone, but underneath that message there was (and still is) a lot of naysayers limiting who “everyone” is. There’s also the tiresome assumption that black people just don’t cosplay because when these spaces showcase cosplay, we’re not always present in their images unless, well, we do it ourselves, as is the case in this documentary.

While we have seen an increase in black cosplayers headlining events, it is still nowhere near the level of white and non-black POCs, or a lack of variety within the realm of what kind of black cosplayer slots they will allow. That’s not a slam against those who are invited and more of a comment on how we’re still talking about wanting to see more black dark skinned cosplayers, black plus size cosplayers, black queer cosplayers, and others within the community.

And when those groups are invited, we’re talking about how we don’t always want it to be because of “the fight” or because certain hashtags denouncing the problem are in fashion.

There’s something to be said for a black cosplay documentary from 2015 that’s still relevant in 2022. You look at the topics covered and hope it’s a distant memory and not some comment a black cosplayer received, most likely, yesterday.

cosplay shades It will be released online on February 4, 2022.

(Image courtesy of Cheyenne Ewulu)

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