Apr 28, 2016

Of Race Relations, Doctor Who And Cosplay

Editor's Note: This is a reposting of a past article previously featured on the now defunct 2D-X.com, featured on Kotaku Cosplay.

My first big outing with the 2D-X crew was 2013′s New York Comic Con. Our, then, Editor in Chief, Jeff, participated in a panel called “Geeks of Color Assemble! : Minorities in Fandom.” That day, I learned a lot about the perception that many people in our nerd culture have with regard to “accurate cosplay.” There were definitely some eye opening moments.

For one, I learned that a lot of people in our gaming/comic/anime etc “nerd” culture are severely prejudiced and misinformed. The story that sticks to me most was told by one of the panelists about her portrayal of Nubia. In as few words as possible, she was told that Wonder Woman wasn’t black and that she should not be cosplaying a white character. On one hand, I want to say “to think that anybody under the ‘nerd’ umbrella’ would discriminate against another person is ridiculous.” On the other hand I want to say “Well, some ‘nerds’ are very passionate about their subject, be it video games, Star Wars canon, or comic book characters.”

However, this particular instance seems to fall into the former more so than the latter. Why? Because, as mentioned, the woman was portraying Nubia, not Wonder Woman. Anybody who would claim to be a ‘comic nerd’ would know that Nubia is Wonder Woman’s dark skinned twin. I left the panel with a certain jadedness and concluded that our community, as a whole, still had progress to make in terms of racial relations. Never mind the many other stigma we already face.

Fast forward six months to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Sakura Matsuri festival, known by many in the local community simply as “Japan Day.” I woke up early and met up with my friend Kenneth, a NYC based model and die-hard Sony fan. We expected a day full of culture, music, art, and cosplay. Never did we think that so many people would assume that he was portraying one of the Doctors.

It started with a simple innocent “Can I get a picture with you?” He obliged, and the young lady smiled widely as her friend used her iPhone to capture this magical moment. She ran off in giddy school girl fashion, and we brushed it off as nothing more than a “I recognize him from BET’s Rip the Runway” incident.

Two seconds later, another group of girls. Then a random guy asked for his picture. Something was up. By this time, we were looking at each other like, “What is going on?” Not a moment later a girl dressed in Highschool of the Dead apparel ran up to Kenneth and exclaimed “Oh my God! Are you one of the Doctors!?” At this point, I realized that all of the people that were approaching my friend were assuming that he was cosplaying as one of the Doctors from Doctor Who.

At lunch, away from the festival, and in the privacy of our own confusion, Kenneth asked “Isn’t Doctor Who white?” Admittedly, neither of us are fans, so I did a quick Google search. The only result that I found was a news article that ran on the BBC sometime in 2013 stating that a black man had been offered the job to play a Doctor, but refused. I assumed, “Yes, Doctor Who is white and always has been.” With this assumption, you can imagine the confusion that we both had while munching on our onigiri.

Upon thinking about how the day played out, many more people assumed Kenneth was from Doctor Who, I couldn’t help but think about that Comic Con panel from just a few months prior. Perhaps I was being a bit jaded. For so many people of all different ethnicities to assume that this black guy was going for, and pulling off well, a character that is traditionally white and has no black counterpart, speaks to the evolution of the community as a whole. To have random strangers come up to my friend and ask him if he was “The Doctor” and then follow it up with nothing but high praise was very enlightening and provided a positive outlook. The community expected and accepted something that wasn’t even meant to be!

As for Kenneth, he was just happy to be there.
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