Cosplay Costumes, the art and craft of dressing up as a fictional person, is about fans transforming into the characters they admire, period. But when it’s a black fan cosplaying as a white character, the Internet peanut gallery hasn’t always been so kind.
For two years now, black cosplayers have been fighting back in the most positive way possible. Led by cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch, 28, #29DaysOfBlackCosplay is a hashtag dedicated to celebrating black cosplayers during Black History Month.
“I started the hashtag last year, back when it was #28DaysOfBlackCosplay,” Cumberbatch told me in an interview. “It’s really about celebrating black cosplayers of all ages, all sizes and all skill levels.”
Black cosplayers have long faced racist comments for posting their photos online. Cumberbatch said she’d finally had enough when a tone-deaf commenter responded to her Sailor Venus cosplay with, “For a black cosplayer… she did an amazing job!”
“Personally, I’ve always been stuck on those first few words: ‘for a black cosplayer,’” Cumberbatch recalled in an XOJane essay. “As if the bar was set lower for us, as if we weren’t expected to perform on the same level as white cosplayers.”
Cumberbatch, who has been cosplaying since 2008, noticed that no matter how much her skills as a cosplayer and costume creator improved, online naysayers continued to criticize her skin tone and features. She said #29DaysOfBlackCosplay was about flipping the script.
“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,” she wrote on Black Girl Nerds. “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.”
The campaign is simple—Cumberbatch schedules a list of 29 black cosplayers of all skill levels and posts one every day. She also encourages other people to tag their favorite black cosplayer with the hashtag, to ensure far more than just 29 people get featured.
“People loved it. I initially intended it to be more of a Facebook event, but it quickly spread over to Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as well,” she said. “It was like wildfire. I had no idea how well it was going to be received!”
#29DaysOfBlackCosplay features black fans cosplaying as characters of all backgrounds, going against an earlier, outdated belief that fans should only cosplay characters of the same race. More than that, though, it shows off the range of talent and skill present in the black cosplay community—many of the costumes in this tag have been constructed by the wearer by hand. For a group that hasn’t often gotten to see faces like theirs in cosplay, it’s a reminder that cosplay is for everyone.
“The most touching reactions I’ve seen are people saying that they finally feel comfortable attempting cosplay for the first time, which is so amazing to me,” Cumberbatch told me in an interview.
“As someone who struggled for years to find my footing in this hobby, I’m so happy to have the opportunity to help make it easier for other people to join in. If we convince even just one person to come to a convention in costume, I’ll consider this a success.”