Saturday morning cartoons showed Dragon Ball Z Kai and Spiderman having fun and saving the day, showing kids a colorful and adventurous world through the eyes of superheroes.
Cosplayer Ralphael Burks, also known as Okami King, grew up watching cartoons and anime. Now, in the real world, he enjoys spending his free time cosplaying the characters he admired.
“Seeing characters like Goku from Dragon Ball or Spiderman as a kid, it made me want to be them in a way,” Burks said, “especially nowadays when you have Black superheroes like Black Panther. You can really see yourself in them.”
Cosplaying has become an outlet for people of all ages to express themselves as they resonate with a fictional character. So, they dress as that character, mimicking their mannerism and personality.
Although cosplaying brings people who are alike in a world of creativity, not everyone is accepting of someone with darker skin cosplaying as a fair skin character.
The local three-day cosplay convention, Anime Blues Con, recently held a panel called, “Cosplaying While Black, hosted by Meri Williams, whose cosplayer name is Merry Meri Cosplay. There she discussed diversity in the cosplay world and how a character is more than just their skin tone.
“If a character resonates with me in some capacity, I was like I will cosplay as them. Regardless of if their fair or dark skin” Williams said.
Williams was introduced to cosplay in 2007, after leaving her hotel room where a cosplay convention was held nearby.
“When I left my hotel room, I saw people dressed up in costume and thought, ‘You can do that?’ And so, I was like I must do this. It looks like so much fun,” Williams said.
She has faced racism during her time as a cosplayer. During her panel, she recalled cosplaying as a fair skin fictional character, and someone made racists comments towards her.
She explained how those kinds of comments are hurtful, but it never discouraged her from doing what she enjoys.
“Don’t let anybody discourage you from doing what you want to do and being who you want to be,” Williams said. “If you want to dress up or cosplay regardless of anything, do that. And that haters can hate.”
Fourteen years later, Williams has grown her Merry Meri Cosplay fanbase and continues to be a representation of Black cosplayers.
Hosting panels and cosplaying at Anime and Comic Conventions in various states, Merry Meri spreads the message of being yourself and having fun along the way.
The panels stress the importance of not only African-Americans being represented in the cosplay community, but also creating a “safe space” for Black cosplayers to interact with each other and participate together in conventions.
Local cosplayer, Aydrian Shores, also known as Aya, who lives in Japan, began cosplaying in 2011. Watching Sailor Moon and seeing herself in the magical protagonist, Usagi Tsukino, Shores began to not only cosplay as her, but also make her cosplay from scratch, bringing the character to life through herself.
“The huge positive is making your character come to life,” Shores said. “What would your favorite character look like if they were you?”
Shores recalled styling her first cosplay wig in 2014, Son Goku from the anime in Dragon Ball.
“I didn’t know that I loved styling wigs until I styled my first Son Goku wig,” she said. “You can explore talents you never knew you had!”
Shores explained how diversity in cosplay is important, and how she resonates with other Black cosplayers who face racism.
“So far I have not experienced any issues within the cosplay community as a Black cosplayer, and that is entirely because I have Albinism,” Shores said. “But it can also be an obstacle with connecting with other Black cosplayers.”
Like Shores, Ralphael Burks hasn’t experienced racism in the cosplay firsthand, but still believes representation is important.
Every February, during Black History Month, Burks participates in the “28 Days of Black Cosplay,” where Black cosplayers post pictures each day cosplaying as their favorite character.
“Last year during the 28 Days of Black Cosplay, I cosplayed as Black Panther,” Burks recalled. “Having that option to cosplay is enjoyable but having a Black superhero to cosplay as makes the experience even more relatable.”
Burks recalled how growing up, there wasn’t a lot of Black superheroes to choose from, but now there is more representation in the media when it comes to Black fictional characters.