Sunday, May 27, 2018
Events

Column: Cosplayers deserve diversity, too

So, you don't want to dress like Harley Quinn?

Crazy, I know. San Diego Comic Con, the big daddy that kicked off the nation's convention season in July, was a good indicator that DC's sexy, deranged jester will be the costume du jour at this weekend's Tampa Bay Comic Con. And why not? With Margot Robbie's turn as Harley in Suicide Squad, out Friday, the character is hot. She has a sense of humor, and a lot of style.

Related: Everything you need to know about Tampa Bay Comic Con

Ah, but maybe you're not skinny. Maybe you're not female. Maybe you're not comfortable in fishnets. Maybe — let's just say it — you're not white.

The art of cosplay, dressing up like your favorite fictional characters, is such a creative pop culture pursuit. And it's mostly a happy one. But that doesn't mean it's without blemishes.

A beautiful thing about con culture is that gender has become really fluid. Women dress like male characters and it is not a big deal. Surf blogs for San Diego coverage and you'll see refreshingly sober descriptions of costumes. It's not, "Here's a lady dressed as Superman!" It's just, "Here's Superman." Men, too, dress like women, though it's usually more of a joking tone. Wonder Woman has a lot of body hair, and so on.

Factor in race, and it gets more complicated.

There's a simmering conversation online, an important one, about race in geek culture. It centers on a glaring lack of characters of color, especially black women, in science fiction, comics and fantasy.

Some smart folks are working to heighten the issue. Cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch spearheaded #29DaysOfBlackCosplay during Black History Month, designed to celebrate black cosplayers. (The year before it was 28, but, Leap Year.) Cumberbatch wrote on blackgirlnerds.com that the hope was to "make this hobby open, inclusive and welcoming to everyone." Other resources for inspiration include the Tumblr page Cosplaying While Black.

I went to MegaCon in Orlando a few years back in a group with a friend, Desiree Fantal. She's 32, a theater photographer in Tampa and an admitted geek who loves to cosplay. She's black.

When she first got into cosplay, she just picked characters she liked, sewed the costumes and went on her way. Then, she noticed something.

"I don't know when exactly it clicked for me, but I realized if I wanted to do a black character, I really had to think," she said to me recently. "It didn't just pop into my head as easily as everyone else. It really started to bug me."

She found black characters, but they were rarely main attractions. They felt more ancillary, not the kind you point to and recognize right away.

She felt a conviction to represent black characters at conventions. Her cosplay has included Martha Jones from Doctor Who and Storm from X-Men. She blurred gender lines as Geordi LaForge, LeVar Burton's character from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It would be easy, and maybe too simplistic, to say, "just go as white characters." Desiree has done that, too. This year, she's going to Tampa Bay Comic Con as Martha Jones again, but she also has a costume for the white cartoon character Louise Belcher from Bob's Burgers. She has gone to a con as Waldo from Where's Waldo?

"It's not a huge deal; it's cosplay," she said. "But it kind of is. It's something you enjoy doing, and you don't see anyone who looks like you."

Sometimes, when black cosplayers play white characters, they're subjected to cruel online commentary. Furthermore, everyone deserves to feel represented in the entertainment they love. Cosplayers of color shouldn't have to resort to a list of white characters.

There are positive moves. In 2015, Marvel Comics replaced Peter Parker with Miles Morales, an African-American/Puerto Rican Spider-Man. But leaked Sony emails showed that studio executives want him to stay white in movies. Black actor Michael B. Jordan was cast as the Human Torch in 2015's Fantastic Four movie. Marvel also has a black female character named Riri Williams stepping in for Tony Stark in the Iron Man comics. And Disney recently introduced a new Latina princess, Elena of Avalor.

Cosplay is really a systemic symptom of priorities in popular culture. It comes down to writers and artists being bold and fearless about demanding diversity in their heroes and villains.

And in the meantime, if you want to dress like Harley Quinn, but don't look like her? There is no time like now to do it anyway.

     
             
Comments
With makeover, ZooTampa at Lowry Park takes a page from the theme parks

With makeover, ZooTampa at Lowry Park takes a page from the theme parks

TAMPA — Behind the construction walls near the carousel at ZooTampa at Lowry Park, hammers, saws and power drills made a racket in the blazing Friday heat. A raft full of 100-pound water jugs took test trips on the new Roaring Springs ride set ...
Published: 05/25/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 29

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 29

Sacred Art Tour of the Tibetan Monks: Eight Dalai Lama-sanctioned monks from India are creating a sand mandala of the Green Tara, a female representation of the Buddha of Compassion. During opening ceremonies, the monks will chant, play long Tibetan ...
Published: 05/25/18
Veterans get in free at Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and more with Memorial Day deals

Veterans get in free at Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and more with Memorial Day deals

Memorial Day is a time to say "thank you" to our veterans. The following is a list of free offers for them to enjoy. Some even last all summer.• Busch Gardens and SeaWorld are offering U.S. veterans and up to three guests get free admission to the th...
Published: 05/25/18
Professional wrestlers are telling their stories through comic books

Professional wrestlers are telling their stories through comic books

Due to its salacious scripted story lines mixed with choreographed violence, professional wrestling is often referred to as a kind of soap opera. But Palm Harbor’s John Crowther sees it differently. Professional wrestling, he said, is a comic book st...
Published: 05/25/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay on May 27

Top things to do in Tampa Bay on May 27

Tampa Bay Margarita Festival: In addition to cocktails, music headliners today are Everclear and Fastball. 11 a.m., Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa. $20-$30 single day; $35, $40 at door (if available) for two-day tickets; VIP $100-$225. ...
Published: 05/25/18

Top things to do in Tampa Bay on May 26

97X Barbecue, Music and Arts Festival: Alt-rock station 97X expands the annual Memorial Day weekend music festival to show love to all arts with a display by local artists and a music line-up including The Dirty Heads, Awolnation, Judah and the Lion,...
Published: 05/25/18
Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmon’s was a meeting place

Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmon’s was a meeting place

It’s where former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Doug Williams had lunch with current Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.It’s where University of South Florida fans often gathered to watch the program’s biggest road games.It’s where folks showed up in...
Published: 05/24/18
Ballet Nacional de Cuba stuns with a spectacular ‘Giselle’

Ballet Nacional de Cuba stuns with a spectacular ‘Giselle’

TAMPA — The Ballet Nacional de Cuba performed Giselle, its signature ballet, on Wednesday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. Fifty-four dancers charmed a packed house, culminating in about two hours an effort that took more tha...
Published: 05/24/18
Bar review: Things are hopping at new Swan Brewing in Lakeland

Bar review: Things are hopping at new Swan Brewing in Lakeland

Lakeland’s a little out of the way, but I’m always eager to check out the bar scene there when passing through or attending an event. Every place I’ve visited just seems so pleasant.I regret missing the boat on the city’s first brewery, Lakeland Brew...
Published: 05/24/18
tbt* local craft beer of the week: Dark Harbor Mocha Stout, Sea Drift Ales & Lagers

tbt* local craft beer of the week: Dark Harbor Mocha Stout, Sea Drift Ales & Lagers

The saga of Barley Mow Brewing Company and its eventual offshoot/successor Sea Drift Ales & Lagers is a complicated one. The most interesting part is how the latter came to be as a result of brewery-distributor tensions, in which Barley Mow pulled an...
Published: 05/24/18