In 2015 actor, writer, filmmaker, and geek extraordinaire Cheyenne Ewulu released her documentary ‘Shades of Cosplay’. The film was a look into the lives of four Black cosplayers and their experiences within cosplay & anime fandom spaces. Bringing to light necessary conversations about the racism, fatphobia, and just general lack of inclusivity they face in these spaces.
It’s no secret that anime has many of the same issues Western entertainment does. Lack of representation for deeper skin tones and anti-Black caricatures for Black characters. So you’d think people would understand that cosplayers don’t need to don whiteface for accuracy’s sake. You’d think that instead they’d value the art form as is.
But unfortunately, they don’t, and that’s precisely what ‘Shades of Cosplay’ sets out to explore. It asks why’s it an issue for Black cosplayers to cosplay non-Black characters? Why is that just because anime clings to Mukokuseki (racially ambiguous characters), we have to do the same?
The documentary weaves together the experiences of all four of these brilliant cosplayers. Highlighting their talents, hard work and the challenges they faced navigating nerdom. It’s full of an unbridled that leaves you grinning at the screen because of how infectious it is— making you stop in your tracks and think about the effort and dedication it takes to turn anime characters into reality.
Like hearing JK Cosplay talk about crafting his prop sword for his cosplay of Nightmare from Soul Caliber. It’s plain to see how much skill and knowledge went into his sword and his cosplay as a whole. But it’s still not enough for naysayers. It doesn’t matter that JK created a near-perfect replica of the sword. Because it doesn’t to them is someone is “a real fan” or stays faithful to the source material. It’s just an irrational and unhealthy obsession with limiting Black anime fans’ desire to express themselves.
And it isn’t just a one-off instance of hate comments or trolls. These are consistent streams of racism, bigotry and vitriol that Black creatives are subjected to 24/7, online and in real life at conventions. The film makes a point of acknowledging with the scene featuring the AnimeMatsuri 2015 Shades of Color Panel. It reaffirms that people aren’t just suffering in silence or lying down in the face of harassment. They’re calling it out in all spaces, both virtual and in person.
But it also points out that Black cosplayers aren’t allowing these limitations and barriers to be placed on them and their craft. Like Prince Mentality Cosplay’s segment, talking about why she created #28DaysOfCosplay to elevate and celebrate Black cosplayers in virtual spaces and allow them to receive the flower they’re owed and usually denied.
Shades of Cosplay might’ve premiered seven years ago, but its message and relevance are evergreen and will be for as long as Black cosplayers practice the art of cosplay. It serves as a reminder that we need to question the people who try to restrict their self-expression and enjoyment within racist anti-Black standards. Nerd culture is rife with toxicity, and at times violence, and the only way to combat that is by following Cheyenne’s lead. Call it out when we see it, be joyous and celebratory despite it, and never stop, no matter what racist bullshit someone has to say.