Challenging the Politics of Accuracy by Conceiving Cosplay as an Afrofuturist Tool

Curator's Note

Cosplay asks its participants to blur the lines of reality and fiction through the use of the visual accoutrements placed on their bodies. The idea is to imbue the costumes with imaginative power capable of transporting cosplayers into another way of existing within a convention space. In some cases these narratives are strongly attached to a visual image of what the character “should” look like, creating anxiety for cosplayers who do not share the same racialized category. In saying this, I believe that conceiving cosplay as an Afrofuturist tool is a way to dismantle the limitations of “accurate portrayal” in a world where representation of diverse bodies of colour in fandom is still surely lacking.

The recent popularity of Afrofuturism owes a cursory nod to Marvel’s Black Panther. However, Afrofuturist fiction, music and art have been around for much longer, as seen through the musical stylings of Sun Ra and his Arkestra or the writings of Octavia Butler. Afrofuturism uses a Black cultural lens to restructure historical narratives that have misrepresented individuals belonging to Afro-diasporic communities. More importantly, with the aid of technology and science fiction, Afrofuturism plays with dominant codes to decolonize the imagination. It asks users to uproot from the liminal constructs of race, sex, gender, etc., and work towards building worlds that are organized differently.

Adopting an Afrofuturist mindset towards cosplay disrupts the politics behind who can accurately portray a fictional character. Cosplayers possess the creative liberty to alter the dominant narratives of the characters they embody. Due to the affective experience of performance and play within cosplay, I believe that it can be wielded as an Afrofuturist tool to create opportunities for Black cosplayers (and other cosplayers of colour) to take control of their self-visualization. This is done by (re)signifying and (re)presenting blackness. This act of subversion can take many forms, which may include cultural dress, hairstyling, linking to prominent Afro-diasporic traditions, or creatively enmeshing real-world life experiences to create something new. Conceiving cosplay as an Afrofuturist tool is not only a way to combat the biases that are present within the cosplay community, but also to recuperate narratives about blackness that have been hidden or misinterpreted. 

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