“Just because the characters we cosplay as don’t look exactly like us, doesn’t mean we can’t re-imagine or portray them in a different way,” says Californian cosplayer Kiera Please. “It’s animation.” The 23-year-old is speaking out after becoming tired of the persecution and misogyny she and many other Black women cosplayers are subjected to on social media. “Sometimes, the abuse online is a lot,” she explains. “The harshest thing is having to read people shaming me over my character choices because I’m not the same colour as the character, or I don’t have the same body shape or features.”
Originating from Japan, cosplay — a portmanteau of the words’ costume’ and ‘play’ — empowers participants to explore their creativity and transform into their hero of choice. Having evolved from a hobby to a subculture, the popularity of cosplaying has grown exponentially and is now a multimillion dollar industry. In theory, cosplay holds no limitations against race, gender, body image or disability. In reality, however, many Black women cosplayers are forced to deal with sexism, racism, body-shaming and colourism.