On Saturday, October 31, 2015, I was invited to attend a panel at Stan Lee’s Comikaze regarding Diversity in the Geek Community. This panel was hosted by an African-American women’s cosplay group called Chocolate Covered Cosplay or C3. According to the Comikaze booklet description, C3 is described as
…A group of African-American women dedicated to promoting the freedom of cosplay by showcasing and empowering the gamer/ nerd/ geek/ cosplayer within us all.
This panel was open to all fans, girls and guys of different backgrounds to come meet the lovely ladies of Chocolate Covered Cosplay for an open and honest dialogue on con culture and see what the ladies of C3 were all about.
On the panel were 3 of the women from C3: Ashphord Jacoway, Ginger Burton, and Deanna Mcrae.
During this panel, I learned that C3 is dedicated to spreading diversity within geek culture and promoting the freedom to cosplay no matter your gender, race, size, and shape. These women are dedicated to raising awareness of diversity within geek culture by holding panels such as this one in order to promote an open dialogue to discuss this topic and by sharing their own life stories. Furthermore, I discovered that C3 is the first African-American cosplay group and was the first African-American cosplay group to be invited to Japan to attend the World Cosplay Summit.
Ashphord, Ginger, and Deanna opened up about how it was difficult to find a place amongst their friends growing up because they were into Anime and video games, and comics, which they said was uncommon amongst their friends and their race. All 3 agreed that growing up it was about trying to finding a place to belong and finding friends who could truly embrace you for who you were and finding friends who are into the same things as you.
Ashphord said that one of the difficulties she has encountered while cosplaying is being told that she should not be cosplaying as certain character because of her race and/or her gender. Both Ginger and Deanna said that they had had the same experiences at different conventions and events they had attended in the past.
Another interesting and meaningful point that C3 brought up was that they do not like being referred to as the “black version” of a character they were cosplaying as they simply want to be referred to as the character itself because that is who they are cosplaying as and not a version of that character.
C3 opened up the floor to questions:
Audience Question 1: How do you go about raising awareness regarding diversity in geek culture and cosplaying, especially with young kids?
- Ashphord talked about going up to kids who are cosplaying out on the con floor and talking to them about their cosplaying and telling them how important it is to be who you want to be. She also said that holding panels helped encourage open dialogue and raising awareness through their Facebook page.
Audience Question 2 asked about how each person deals with the pressure from within the nerd/geek community?
- Ashphord talked about the difficulties of acceptance within the nerd community. She talked about how she face acceptance issues because of her race and her gender because being a female nerd meant that she was often challenged into proving whether she was nerd enough to be a part of the community. She shared a story about an incident where she was quizzed on her Anime knowledge when she went to go pick up something that she ordered. She ended by telling us that while she was being quizzed she realized that she didn’t need to prove anything, all she wanted was her anime so she could get home and watch it. She doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. [I’m just going to comment and say that it is just ridiculous that as a female nerd you are constantly challenged into a nerd trivia pursuit to prove that you deserve to belong. It is frustrating, so I understand what Ashphord was talking about.]
- Ginger discussed how she has run into issues of guys not believing her when she says she is a gamer and a nerd. She has also had experience with having to prove how nerd she is just to be accepted by others.
- Deanna talked about how she has experienced issues regarding her race and the characters she has cosplayed as, in that people have blatantly told her that she can’t cosplay play as that character because she is African-American. [All I can say is what the hell??]
Audience Question 3 asked Ashphord about her acting and any difficulties she has faced?
- She told us that she had recently spoken with her agent about how he submits the actors he represents for roles, in that does he include a photo of the actor when he submits them. She said that her agent actually does race blind submission for roles if he thinks the actor is right for the role, except in certain situations, such as when part of a family has been cast, then he tends to only submit actors based on the race of the already casted actors.
Audience Question 4: How in-depth do you go with the characters you cosplay as?
- Ashphord said that she digs deep into the characters she cosplays as. She tries to learn as much as she can about the character, such as digging into the lore behind a video game character she has chosen and the game itself. She’s really into anime and comics so she will read as much as she can that’s associated with the characters so that she can portray them authentically.
- Ginger and Deanna said that they also dig deep into the characters that they cosplay as.
Audience Question 5 asked the panel about their feelings toward the tokenization of people of color within films, tv show, etc?
- Deanna said that the tokenization of people of color is almost as offensive as not including a person of color at all in the film or tv show. She also commented on the “magical black person” that sometimes just appears in films and tv shows. Both Ashphord and Ginger agreed that they have seen this as well.
My thoughts on this panel:
Overall I thought this panel was very eye-opening. I have always been aware of the issues women face while trying to find a their place within the Geek Community, especially within the gaming community. Women are often challenged by others, mostly of the opposite gender, to prove that they are nerd/geek enough to be participating in the community, which is something that I find ridiculous. Is it really so other worldly to believe that we are just as involved as you are in the nerd/geek community? Is it really??
On a side note, I just remembered that one of the ladies from the panel made an excellent point that they often hear guys talk about how they wish they could find a girl who was into the same things that they are, but when we stand up and raise our hands were are told we are frauds. Huh…. are we now?
Furthermore, I found it very interesting and enlightening to listen to C3 talk about their difficulties finding a niche within the nerd/geek community because of their race, that being a person of color has made it incredibly difficult to find a place with the community and cosplay as whatever character they feel like. Race and gender should never dictate what character you choose to cosplay as.
Cosplaying is about showcasing your talent and love for whatever character you want. It shouldn’t be about your race and gender.
I am very glad that I had the opportunity to sit in on this panel. It was very enlightening and eye-opening when it comes to the challenges many are facing within the Geek Community.
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Also please check out Chocolate Covered Cosplay on Facebook. There also links their other websites on their Facebook.