The issue is this: there are, as ever, fascinating new characters, some of them at first glance eminently suitable for cosplay; the character around whom this discussion arose was the delicious Liz 10, HRH Elizabeth X of the UK&NI, as portrayed by the lovely and talented Sophie Okonedo.I have a feeling this will be a thing during this year of cons; Liz 10 was pretty damn awesome, and I can see how white fans, not really thinking about it, might be tempted to cosplay as her. But it would be really problematic to do so, as Caitie points out:
She's a fun character, with a few great lines ("...higher alien intelligence, hair of an idiot." and "I'm the Queen, mate. Basically, I rule."), and a great easy costume to pull off: red dress, red hooded robe, boots, porcelain mask, all finished, right?
So one of my friends was a little surprised when, after mentioning how easy it would be to do, I stated that I'd never do it.
I don't think one can be a serious sf/f fan and not have heard about RaceFail last year, the huge explosion in fandom after some truly unfortunate and highly privileged statements by various authors and sf/f publishing industry people.I think Caitie did a good job pointing out why it's problematic to cosplay as characters of color as a white fan, so I want to talk a little about how this conversation links to other kinds of minority cosplaying (namely, disability and gender). At the end of that passage from Caitie, she mentions that it's not the same problem for FOC to cosplay as characters originally played by white actors. My immediate reaction to that mental image (namely, a POC cosplaying as the Doctor) was, "Fuck yeah. That would be badass." Some of the comments in Caitie's post mimic my enthusiasm for minority fans cosplaying majority-played characters. Beppie, for example, pointed out that this is also an issue with disabled fans and disabled characters:
One thing it did for me was to point out to my own over-privileged eyes something I should have noticed earlier: the conspicuous lack of visibility of POC in sf/f, and a consequent lack of roles for POC [people of color] in screen-media, as well as a concomitant lack of representation of POC in fandom (or FOC [fans of color]). I make no excuses for that failure to notice: it was privilege, pure and simple.
But it's meant I've had to look a little harder at cosplay, and how easy it is for white fans to appropriate the few roles that POC have won. We all know the roles, because there are few enough of them: Dr. Who's Martha Jones and her family, or Mickey Smith (and what was with Nine's bizarre and unsettling dismissal of Mickey from the moment they met?); Toshiko of Torchwood; various Klingons of TNG and more recent vintage (generally - but not always - played by POC); Storm of the X-Men; Teal'c of Stargate; Zoe, Book, and Fanty & Mingo from Firefly; the entire cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender; and a few others (mostly unnamed because I don't watch the shows in question; I don't even watch Stargate, but I know of Teal'c just from endless commercials thereof - though I didn't know his name!).
And it occurred to me that if I want to see more FOC out to cons and events, then one of the most elementary steps toward that end would be to make sure I don't tread on any of the small number of cosplay options that should, I believe, only be open to FOC. To do otherwise is to tread perilously close to "blackface" (or yellowface or redface or whatever other nasty replacement is happening).
We in the privileged seats have many, many options open to us: by far the majority of the roles continue to be given to people who look just like us, and even then, certain directors feel the need to "whitewash" their casts for the usual Hollywood bullshit reasons: that white fandom won't go see movies built around the lives and stories of POC, that there aren't sufficient quality actors of colour. This is the spurious and racist reasoning behind the horrendous miscasting of the live action version of Avatar TLA, or of whitewashing Ged and others from a broadcast of U. K. Le Guin's Earthsea.
So no, as I told my friend, though the character is delightful and I'd adore playing her, Liz 10 (and Zoe, and Tosh, and the few others) won't be someone I'll be cosplaying in this lifetime.
I hope no Shakers need to be told why it's not an equivalent problem if FOC decide to cosplay roles originally given to white actors.
I'm thinking that there could be similar issues in play in terms of non-disabled people cos-playing characters with disabilities; though of course this is often complicated by the fact that characters with disabilities are often played by actors who do not share that disability.Caitie remarks after this that this costume sounds pretty awesome. And that seems to be a common reaction. Shortly after this, Time-Machine linked to a pretty good blog post about the new-ish trend of dressing as a femme!Doctor:
And of course, this is another issue that does not work in reverse; I think it's great to see people with disabilities cosplaying characters who normally aren't portrayed as disabled. I was at Melbourne Supanova two weeks ago, and I saw a blind woman cosplaying Captain Jack; her guide dog's leash had a Torchwood logo on it and everything. This woman didn't hide her disability in order to play the character, she made it part of the character.
In regards to Femme Doctor Who cosplay (where a woman cosplayer recreates an existing masculine character into a feminine one) there's a really great post on it over here that dissects it pretty well. I agree with almost every bit of it (except the authors personal opinion on whether we should have a woman Doctor ever in the future). I definitely was entranced with the idea, when I'd never been interested in cosplay before. (It helps that I have the nose and the hair to REALLY pull off a femme!Four).My reaction to the idea of a racial minority cosplaying as an originally white character (badass!) is reflected in the celebration of this Jack Harkness cosplay and the femme!Doctor trend. I think the excitement about these cosplays is related, but I'll use the femme!Doctor trend as my point of departure. In the femme!Doctor post, she argues that femme cosplay is a way for women to be feminine and Doctor Who fans. She recounts growing up as a geek, when she experienced something most geek women face: the necessity of being an honorary guy, of having to renounce femininity in order to be accepted by other (male) geeks.
But it came at the price of being an honorary guy. Their clubhouse, not yours. Their rules. Honorary guys must keep to the rules of guydom, and one of the first rules of guydom is to disavow and abjure all things girly. Cute is an epithet. [...] If you'd asked me when I was fifteen, I'd have said I didn't mind, that I was used to it, and I just kept my yap shut about the stuff I liked that they didn't. But today, I wonder about the after effects of this kind of cultural programming: I was an honorary guy until I was twenty-two, for heaven's sake. (Computer science major in college.) I didn't buy anything pink until last year--no reason, I just didn't like pink. I thought. Forswearing all things feminine just because they were feminine... well, wasn't that kind of sexist? I called myself a feminist, but aspired to masculinity because I thought it was better, in some vaguely-defined but hugely important way? Screw that. But the prohibition against anything not masculine was deeply ingrained in me, practically a reflex.This is definitely a part of the femme!Doctor trend; female fans are taking their place in Doctor Who fandom, and they're making it clear that they are unwilling to pretend to be men to be accepted there. But there's something more going on here, and I think the reason that Nightsky doesn't see that is that she is personally against an actual female Doctor:
Nor do I think that the Doctor should regenerate into a woman: not only because there's no precedent for it in the show, but also because it implies that the Whoniverse has a dearth of kickass female characters, which isn't true.Nightsky dismisses the idea that part of the reason that women want to dress as femme!Doctors is because they want to see themselves in the lead role, despite the fact that femme cosplay is dominated mostly by women cosplaying the Doctor (the lead role). There may be some kickass female characters in Doctor Who, but the companions are definitionally merely sidekicks to the Doctor (even the ones who stand up to him, hold their own, or even exceed him are still sidekicks). And the non-companion female badasses, like River Song, only show up every once in a while. They're not on the same level as the Doctor, if only because the show isn't about them.So I do think that fans doing femme cosplay are not only taking their place in the fandom, but in the show. Doing cosplay as a femme!Doctor (or a black Doctor, or a visibly disabled Doctor, etc.) is part necessity (as in, I am in a lady-body, so if I want to cosplay as the Doctor, he would have to be a lady-body-Doctor, like a person in a wheelchair would have to be a wheelchair-user Doctor, or a black person would have to be a black Doctor). But it's also a way for fans to see themselves in the Doctor, as the unquestioned protagonist of the show. Doctor Who fans can say all they like that DW is progressive enough in its way, but it's still dated by its insistence that the main character be a white, cis-gendered, abled British man. It reminds me of Sady Doyle's commentary about the Star Trek movie:
[J]ust imagine! [...] A crew of diverse nationalities, races, genders and points of planetary origin! In which a white, straight dude from Iowa magically ends up in charge! - and good old-fashioned lecturing ("...and now, the mostly-white crew shall visit the Planet of the Racists to show them the error of their ways"). The problem with writing about the future is that it always catches up with you, and is usually not what you expected: 1966 - the year that the original series began - is not 2009, and one of the chief problems facing JJ Abrams in his brand-new reboot of the franchise is that he has to make us buy a future world that looks so, well, dated.Doctor Who suffers a little from the Star Trek syndrome. Sure, there are women there, and POC, and they are sometimes even awesome, but the white guy is still in charge. Magically! So I find it difficult to believe that FOC cosplaying as the Doctor, or female fans cosplaying as a femme!Doctor, or disabled fans cosplaying as a disabled Doctor, aren't making up for a deficiency. And perhaps our excitement for this kind of play is the result of our recognition of this deficiency and the creativity of the fans in dealing with it. Yay fans!
I can't know how bold and challenging it felt to see a central, friendly Russian character on TV at the height of the cold war, or a central, friendly Asian character at the height of the Vietnam war (Sulu was originally written as non-specifically Asian, and later made Japanese-American - which was still quite a step, considering that Star Trek aired only 20 years after the last internment camp in the US had closed). I can't feel, on a visceral level, how many boundaries Nyota Uhura crossed simply by being there, on the bridge, let alone by kissing Kirk. Those things, to me - a woman born in 1982 - just are not shocking: we seem to have made more progress, identity-politics-wise, in the last 40 years than Star Trek predicted we would in the next few hundred years. Nope, what I notice, looking at the main crew of the Enterprise in the original TV series, is that most of them are white dudes, there are only two people of colour, there is only one woman - who has to do her job, unlike everyone else, while navigating the problematic confines of a miniskirt - and that all of them, unlike George Takei, are straight.
A tangent: Sady's article takes me to the thing that bothers me a bit about femme cosplay: mainly, the miniskirts and the corsets. There's nothing wrong with a corset in itself--I'm going to be wearing a corset at Gally next year myself (as a steampunk TARDIS)--but there's something a little disturbing about the fact that femme!Doctor almost inevitably means high heels, short skirts, and binding clothes. Uhuru has to navigate the bridge in a miniskirt (a difficult task indeed), but I can't imagine how the Doctor could do such a thing on the bridge of the TARDIS. He already has issues flying it, in pants and with tennis shoes. (Case in point: River Song takes off her heels to fly the TARDIS in "The Time of Angels.") Johanna Mead touches on this in her essay in Chicks Dig Time Lords, "Costuming: More Productive Than Drugs, But Just as Expensive:"
Stomach sinking, I reconsidered the "Femmy Ten" costume. On the one hand, it's a silly little joke. On the other hand, I'd neatly suggested that a female Doctor would be completely useless. Have you ever tried running down a corrider in a tightly laced corset whilst wearing heels? I have (I was late for a panel) and it nearly crippled me. There's be no racing to save the day in that ensemble. All I had considered, initially, was that I look good in a corset (plus, I wanted the challenge of making one with pinstripes.) I can get away with a short skirt, and for heaven's sake, you don't wear flats with a skirt above the knee. Much, much later, I realized that, as a woman who has long ranted about fashion as a conspiracy to weaken women, I'd shot myself in the foot. (59)Indeed.
*If you go over there and comment, read the first paragraph and don't be spoilery! Here, however, be as spoilery as you like.
UPDATE: For the commenters veering in the "But I totes identify with characters of color! Don't make me have to consider race when making the decision to cosplay!" direction: Stop it. I'm not discounting your identification with characters of color. But your cosplaying doesn't happen in a racism-free vacuum. Don't forget that cosplaying as characters of color problematically whitewashes those characters. And don't act like race isn't important, especially in shows where the characters of color are few and far between.
UPDATE: Because I said it so elegantly in the comment section, I'm reposting some more of my thinking about HOW FUCKING WRONG this:
What [white fans cosplaying as minority characters] does is *appropriate* characters of color as yet another fucking realm into which white people have colonized the black/brown experience. Which may turn off fans of color from cosplaying those characters, quite understandably.
You'll notice I'm all about crossplay when ladies dress up as male characters. (I don't have anything really against dudes crossplaying, as long as the series has a number of bitchin' ladies to choose from and it doesn't turn into "haha! dude in a dress! cross-dressers are hi-larious!") Just like I'm all about cosplay crossing race lines when fans of color cosplay as white characters, etc. The problem arises here when the privileged class thinks it's entitled to claim the experience and bodies of the non-privileged class. Not fucking okay. [emphasis added.]