In late June, I was trying to think up a quick cosplay for Anime Midwest and one of the characters that popped into my head was a genderflip of Thug!Nagisa from 50% Off! I already owned the right colored wig and I could’ve easily pulled together Nagisa’s school uniform. Just about everyone who’s watched Free! has seen 50% Off! so it wasn’t beyond reason that this cosplay would leave my fellow con goers in stitches. One knee slap and a hardy guffaw later, it was off the table. The more I thought about accessories for the cosplay, the more uncomfortable it made me. It brought up a couple of very important questions: What makes someone a “thug”? What makes something “thuggish”? Hmmm…
Lately, I’ve seen a handful of African-Americans in various fandoms doing “hood” cosplays. So far, I’ve seen people do this with Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez from Bleach, Link from the Zelda video game (as seen above) and Harley Quinn from Batman. I really hope it’s not becoming a thing. I’m all for creativity and humor but not at the expense of people who look and sound like me. I feel like I have a responsibility to not perpetuate stereotypes about those people. My people. That’s one of the main reasons why “hood” cosplays are grinding my gears.
If taking items that certain groups of African-Americans wear on a regular day (‘do rags, gold chains, gold fronts, snapbacks, etc.) and applying them to cosplays suddenly makes those cosplays “hood,” we’re screwed. Take that Link, for instance. The “hood” Link had the regular Link sword, shield and hat but threw on a jersey, some jeans and a belt with one of those gigantic buckles. What makes that “hood”? Is it the belt buckle? The jersey? Or is it the fact that it’s a black guy? “That’s kind of odd,” a friend said when I told her about “hood” Link. “It kind of takes away the essence of the original character. Like when people try to ‘sexify’ unsexy costumes, like SpongeBob.”
I don’t know these cosplayers personally. I don’t know their motivations. It’s safe to say they did these cosplays strictly for lulz; that’s exactly what I was initially going for when I thought of doing Thug!Nagisa. However, considering that the convention scene is still a mostly white space, I try to think a lot more carefully about how my cosplays will be perceived. It boils down to creative freedom vs. the white gaze. Those who are conscious of this dichotomy are thinking to themselves, “Do I want people laughing with me or laughing at me?”
With black people in this country dying in the streets at an alarming rate — at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect us and at the hands of people who look like us — do we really want to take up mantle of “thug” and “hood” versions of characters for shits and giggles? People are being gunned down based on perceived thuggery. Trayvon Martin was called a thug; George Zimmerman made an assumption about whether Trayvon “belonged” in his neighborhood. Michael Brown was called a thug. Before the video came out, people had a field day speculating about John Crawford’s actions based on what part of town he lived in (even though Ohio is an open carry state). Maybe you think this is too serious, making this connection to cosplay but things don’t happen in a vacuum. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
If any of you know these “hood” cosplayers personally, talk to them. Show them this blog post, if you think it’ll make any difference. Maybe they’ll listen to you, as a friend. Because friends don’t let friends cosplay “hood.”