Why is Otakon leaving Baltimore after 2016
Black cosplayers talk about self-doubt
Shannon I., 23, refused to leave her hotel room in Baltimore. For months she had been looking forward to Otakon, Baltimore's annual anime convention, and especially to seeing Takumi from Fire Emblem Fates to play along. Trimmed with fur, adorned with red cord and crowned with a white wig, Shannon's cosplay was flawless. She had been striving for exactly this effect for five days, “waking up and doing nothing but sewing,” she told me last weekend in Otakon. When I found her, she was curled up with her little sister, Kimberly, in a far corner, far from the crowd.
"I didn't want to wear that costume this morning," Shannon said. "Maybe I shouldn't care, but this is not a black character."
Shannon, like her sister and other black cosplayers interviewed in Otakon, cited their race as a barrier to entry into the cosplay community. It's not that the cosplay community doesn't welcome people with color - it's one of the most liberal subsets of the anime and video game community, a place where any craze is warmly celebrated. Self-doubt - the internalized fear that putting on your favorite character's skin will damage the aesthetic fantasy of your own skin - can keep black cosplayers from feeling comfortable in cosplay.
Otakon attracted over 20,000 anime and video game fans. Baltimore, a city two-thirds black and 50% above the national average. There the visibility for colored people in the so-called nerd community is strong. Despite the racist makeup of the city and Otakon's relatively high participation in colored people, the black cosplayers surveyed still felt the psychological pressure of marginalization within the nerd community.
"It's a lot of internal back and forth," 20-year-old Kimberly told me. She was from as Rinkah Fire Emblem Fates disguised, red-eyed with fur cuffs. Rinkah, the daughter of a chief, is a proud, fierce fighter whom Kimberly approached, who seemed calmer. For the past six years she'd starred, Kimberly chose characters whose outfits were more hidden, like Candela von Pokemon 's team Valor and Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender . However, Rinkah wears a short tube top and shows off her canonically pale belly and arms.
"I can look good," said Kimberly, "but I'm not going to look as good as someone with a lighter skin tone who cosplayed this character." Cosplayers who enjoy being photographed - honestly most of them - may feel that their crafting efforts have been in vain if participants fail to realize who they are or appreciate the aesthetic similarities.
Through the full body cosplay, the 26-year-old Marcus C. remains recognizable. Marcus is a remarkably talented cosplayer who has a complete Monster hunter Made armor set for Otakon, which is the culmination of his 7 years of experience. During our conversation, at least three viewers took him aside to photograph his eggplant-colored armor set, which included a helmet.
"Any character who wears masks or full armor I can get away with," he told me. When asked if this is a function of the breed, he added, “It's definitely a hang-up, I'm not going to lie. I tend not to do things about race, but sometimes I think about a costume but then I realize that it might not get it right. “He doesn't accuse viewers of not registering his character, which is affected by racial differences, but explains this possibility by drawing attention to his outfit.
Like Kimberly and Shannon, Marcus plays more video game characters than anime, citing the lack of colored people in Japanese cartoons (including Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena , Michiko from Michiko to Hatchin , Afro from Afro samurai , Mila Rose from Bleach , Geretta from Hunger X Hunter and Karui from Naruto ). As children, many of us dated with Mr. Popo Dragon Ball Z grew up a dark-skinned slave with puffy red lips. Despite the fact that he was not intended to be an African American, he was dyed blue for American television, indicating his potentially offensive reception.
Japan's population is less than 1% minority, so the visibility of people of color in the anime struggles against some harsh demographic realities. The popularity of American television overseas could help (and has done to some extent) promote black representation in the anime. However, Juan R. 22, a black cosplayer, stated that on the way to Japan, American media doesn't always portray people with color in the best light:
"The problem is how Japan sees American culture," he said. “Even in American shows, people with color are not main characters most of the time. And if you are in Japan and only on American television, assume that America doesn't have a lot of minorities. "
I was wandering through the dining area and was chewing on a stale "Tokyo Fried Chicken" when I came across Sola-Heike (19), the Dva from Overwatch , a South Korean StarCraft Player, cosplayed. She wore a full body dva suit with hand-painted armor around her neck and arms, and a pink pistol and headset. Her eyeshadow even matched her gun. When we sat outside a coffee shop, she was sweating from being photographed in Baltimore's hot heat. I asked her about cosplaying the story.
"I've been making a lot of video game characters lately," she said. "Once I was Judal from [the anime] Magi whose skin is pale. I thought I was doing a really good job, but someone on Tumblr said, "Oh, Judal was out in the sun too long and ate too many apples."
Sola-Heika says she tries to dispel self-doubt, but stated that fear of her race is heavily reflected in her character choices. For the past 6 years she has been looking for dark skinned video game characters like Aveline from Assassin's Creed or Red from transistor interested but says options are extremely limited. Lately, when picking out white or Asian reading characters, she has felt the need to do anything with costume design to even out the racial differences:
“I was worried that I wouldn't look like the people I cosplayed, so I had to be 20 times better at craftsmanship. I think that's how a lot of black cosplayers feel, ”said Sola-Heika. As they Transistor Red cosplayed, she made the costume sparkle to better compete with cosplayers who look more like the white, blue-eyed video game character. That way you would Transistor fans acknowledge their hard work. Often, however, it has been overlooked despite her arduous efforts. It's okay, she explains. She's only there for fun.
For Shannon's part, fear that her successes might go unsung brought her to her hotel room from Otakon on Saturday morning. "I thought I didn't think I should wear this," she told me. “I wanted people to recognize the work I put into this character. I just want people to look at me and think, 'She did a good job', not, 'The person who is the wrong skin color for this character.' "If nobody says anything to her when she's cosplaying, fear takes over. I knew it. I shouldn't have done anything at all.
The visibility for black cosplayers will help combat those fears, her sister Kimberly said. The inclusion of black cosplayers in the cons advertising and social media posts will attract more people of color who are not reflected in their favorite anime and video game characters or in what is known as the nerd community. Having a role model, Kimberly added, can also help allay black cosplayers' concerns about cosplaying fair-skinned characters, especially from anime.
"If Shannon hadn't done this, I wouldn't have been so inclined to come to Otakon," said Kimberly. "If it weren't for her, I don't know if we'd even go to conventions."
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