Monday, February 27, 2017

#28DaysofBlackCosplay 2017: What I've Learned This Month (And since my last post)

I got a handful of responses to my last blog post about the POC Cosplayer Community (more specifically the Black Cosplayer Community, will elaborate below), and I am feeling way more optimistic. Although the month of February is almost over, I don't want myself nor anyone else to forget any of these concerns when next year rolls around:

So here are a few highlights from the past few days:

  1. A couple of people approached me online saying they were glad that I spoke up because they were feeling the same way. Thank you so much!!! This really pleases me because it tells me that this community, while somewhat broad, really IS diverse, but it's not so easy to see that. Someone on my Facebook timeline pointed out that it may be the case that people with certain interests are afraid to come out because they think their interests are too obscure and not loved by many. But when more and more people start to think that, suddenly you have a whole silent group in the dark, not aware that the others exist! So me saying something really helped me to connect with some of you and I'm really glad.
  2. A friend pointed out to me her concerns that other POC minorities have trouble being in the community because, although it is the "POC Cosplayer Community," the population is heavily made up of black cosplayers, and many people interchange "POC" with "Black" (despite being biracial, I am guilty of making that mistake from time-to-time). It's also possible that other ethnicities may not feel the need to join the community because they don't really face the same issues as black cosplayers, so it leaves some members without the backing that they need to stay in the community, or to speak up. This is just another way in which I think that saying "POC cosplayers" may be too broad, or maybe we need to start creating sub-communities and consider POC to be an alliance of those subgroups. Do remember that 28DBC is about Black cosplayers, but also remember that "POC" doesn't only mean black, and we should be lifting them up as well.
  3. My thoughts on some of the events during 28DBC still stand. Chaka Cumberbatch, the founder of 28DBC, expressed this perfectly on Twitter. Media outlets unsurprisingly mess things up when they turn things into a contest by titling their articles "The Best of 28 Days of Black Cosplay" and showing off only the best photos, missing the point of the movement. Some people focus too much on "being featured." Remember that not being on Buzzfeed or HuffPo doesn't mean you've failed as a cosplayer. A handful of popular cosplayers, while they DO deserve recognition, sometimes get overexposed, leading to people not being able to find other cosplayers that they may be more interested in following. Thankfully, I found out that the POC Cosplayers Facebook page has been indexing all of the cosplayers of color that they could find! This is an amazing thing because not all black cosplayers participate in #28DaysofBlackCosplay or even know about it, so it can be hard to find certain pages. They are featured alphabetically; you can find the post where my page is listed here, but I highly encourage you to take some time to check out all of the other lists on their page and find some cosplayers that share your interests, or just follow all of them!
  4. Not totally related to POC or 28DBC but another concern: My growing dislike for wearing sexy costumes stems NOT from how popular other cosplayers are for doing it; more power to them for doing what they do! My dislike comes from my personal experience of objectification from viewers, and the fact that I struggle for recognition of things I do and say, which are more important to me than looking good in a costume. Once in a while I'll still wear these costumes because I like them and I like the character, but the unwanted looks gets to be too much. I can't stress this enough: Cosplay is very visual, but for some of us it's much more than that. That's why I included stories with each of my #28DaysofBlackCosplay photos on Instagram, and I didn't always use my best photos. Whether you liked my more revealing Sailor Starlights costume series, or my more "covered up" G-Dragon costumes, I hope you read the stories that accompanied the pictures. While cosplay for me used to just be about trying to make amazing costumes and photos for other people to see, in my heart I've always just wanted two things: friends with whom I can cosplay; and for people to hear what I have to say.
With all of that out, I hope everyone had a positive 28DBC experience this year! I wish I had been able to participate more, but Katsucon and other things really got in the way. I'll be thinking about some plans for next year! Much thanks to Chaka Cumberbatch AKA Princess Mentality Cosplay (follow her on Twitter and Facebook, I highly recommend!) for starting this movement and sharing some of my photos/stories. This movement means a lot to me as a cosplayer of color and because of my other friends who have worried about being "too dark" or "not attractive enough" to dress up as a certain character. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Is the "POC Cosplayer Community" Too Broad?

I knew that when Katsucon was coming up, I was going to miss a few days of 28 Days of Black Cosplay, and figured that I would just come back to it after the weekend.

But I'm struggling to motivate myself to finish.

Since the beginning of the month (perhaps even earlier) I felt a small apprehension about 28DBC, and after the first two weeks I felt my feelings being justified.

While I relate to some of the issues of being a POC cosplayer, as a fan of Japanese anime and video games, I don't feel as though I fit into the POC cosplayer community as it currently stands. I'm admittedly not very involved so it's not as though I expect anyone to reach out, but my passions and interests are very much centered around what I like, not what I look like. Many of the POC cosplayers I've seen in Facebook groups and tagged on social media for 28DBC don't seem to share the same interests, and I've found that the POC cosplayers I've met who DO like the same genres feel the same way I do about 28DBC and POC groups. We feel a little left out because, while we are Black, there is a disconnect because we aren't heavy followers of Marvel and DC comics and Saturday Morning cartoons. We like anime (and not just Sailor Moon and DBZ), manga, JRPGs (and not just Zelda and Final Fantasy), dating sims and idol games. For me, simply being POC is not enough for me to bond and network consistently with people. When it comes to the Black community, creating a special space when not being welcomed in the mainstream is common, and it's a good thing. But for my particular interests, the current space doesn't work.

This past weekend I spent a lot of time talking and hanging out with cosplayers who are white or Asian, because we happened to like the same things. Me being darker than them was irrelevant; it was all about the fact that we shared a common interest. Every once in a while I get the occasional, "Hey, can you cosplay as [tan-skinned character]?" or "You'd make the perfect [other tan-skinned character]," (and this doesn't just come from white or Asian people, I get this sometimes from other black people), which bothers me only a little bit when I don't necessarily know or like the character, but in the end I embrace the fact that I can use my skin tone to celebrate darker-skinned anime and game characters, and in some cases it makes me aware of these characters that I didn't know existed.

So far, I've seen that 28DBC this year has heavily featured the same small handful of popular cosplayers over and over again. A lot of the people featured, while they look AMAZING, are often top-notch or super attractive cosplayers, which already ties into the issue that some people have with cosplayer hierarchy. During the first days of 28DBC I wanted to look for the lesser-known cosplayers: the ones who had page likes and followers in the double or triple digits rather than thousands; the ones who are just starting out in cosplay and aren't as experienced; the ones who aren't considered attractive by society's standards; the ones like me who are "otaku" rather than nerds; the ones who prefer to cover up instead of showing skin. Websites that have covered the 28DBC trend this month have been showcasing only the best photos, which does cut down the idea that black people aren't good at costuming--they most certainly are--but also inadvertently suggests that being Black is okay as long as your costume (and your body) looks good. For me right now, the POC Cosplayer community feels like high school again; watching cliques of cosfamous people get the spotlight while the "nobodys" struggle to find their place and their voice.

This isn't to say that I have any issue for 28DBC movement itself; I still support it and consider it to be important as a way to inspire and encourage others. But lately I've felt as though this year has lacked any significant progress, and the POC Cosplayer community is starting to solidify itself as a hierarchy.

I'll try to continue, and perhaps next year I'll try to push forward even further. I feel like there is a lot of ground that needs to be covered, beyond Facebook, beyond Instagram, beyond English-speaking countries. I also think that perhaps things such as fandom, interests, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and cultural background needs to be highlighted so that POC Cosplayers can find a niche within the community.

I don't really expect this blog to get much attention but I've been frustrated and hopefully if anyone else has been feeling the same way, maybe we can link up!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

28 Days of Black Cosplay 2017

February is already here?! That means it's time once again for #28DaysofBlackCosplay.

As a reminder, I will copy & paste my DeviantArt post from last year about what this hashtag is about. I've also added to it (See #5):

  1. 28DBC is about recognizing a minority. Take a look at WorldCosplay, guest cosplayers for anime conventions, articles about cosplay within the USA, etc. Most of the cosplayers recognized are Asian or white, or otherwise of fair complexion. These cosplayers look great and have done great work, but it’s unfortunate that there aren’t many cosplayers of darker complexion being recognized. It may be because there aren’t quite as many of us involved outside of Facebook or the Cosplaying While Black Tumblr, or maybe because certain websites only like to look for “accuracy,” i.e. a cosplayer whose skin tone matches the character. Whatever the reason may be, black cosplayers also deserved to be recognized and appreciated.
  2. 28DBC is NOT racist. Every year there's always that handful of people to say, "if there was a 28 Days of White Cosplay, it would be racist." You can read my first point in order to understand why a “28 Days of White Cosplay” isn’t necessary, because we see them 365 days a year—much more often than black cosplayers.
  3. 28DBC is about inspiration and encouragement. Some black youths who may be new to cosplay and/or the geek community may be worried about cosplaying because they don’t “look like” the character they want to cosplay as. Some of them may be looking at all of the amazing costumes worn by cosplayers with lighter skin, and so they severely limit themselves to characters that "look like” them, or choose not to cosplay at all. By seeing other black cosplayers, they would feel more encouraged if they saw people who looked like them rocking their costumes.
  4. 28DBC is NOT a “black cosplayers only” club. I’ve noticed in my lifetime that during Black History Month, it seems like the people celebrating it are mostly black people, while other people kind of sit off to the side. If a child was having a birthday, wouldn’t they usually invite their friends over to celebrate? 28DBC can be celebrated in the same fashion—I invite cosplayers of ALL races to help celebrate black cosplayers, out of love for cosplay as well as love for the diversity within the cosplay community. You don’t have to be black to celebrate black cosplayers!
  5. 28DBC does not represent a monolith. Not only are we celebrating that black cosplayers exist, we are also celebrating the diversity that exists within the black cosplayer population, whether those differences are ethnicity, gender, sexuality, size, body shape, interests, disability, costuming skill level. We are not all sexy, bikini-clad cosplayers, we are not all cardboard sword and armor-wearing cosplayers, we're not all into Marvel comics nor are we all interested in anime. We are not all from the same state nor are we all even from the same country. Some of us do genderbent versions of characters, some of us crossplay, and some of us do both. We celebrate not only that we share in the triumph and struggles of being a darker complexion, but also the differences among us that make each one of us unique.
This is what 28 Days of Black Cosplay means to me, and this is why it's important, especially this year with so much going on. That said, enjoy the month of February and see what black cosplayers have to offer!