Spotlight on Black Cosplayers (Part 2): An Interview with Brandon, Christopher, and Portia

This is the second article of a two part feature. If you haven’t seen part one, click here!

As stated previously, Carbon Costume stands with the Black Lives Matter movement. We must keep fighting for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau, Elijah McClain, and Rayshard Brooks. We see that racism pervades all aspects of life —  including cosplay.

Cosplay is for everyone, and we must stop discriminating against cosplayers of color, especially black cosplayers. It is now time for black cosplayers, artists, photographers, and creators to take the spotlight. Alongside this series, we are going to continue to highlight their content in our articles, as well increase the diversity in our costume guides, making sure we include black characters.

For part two, we’re keeping up with amplifying the voices of some black creatives: Brandon aka Fire Forged Cosplay, Christopher aka PapaBear Cosplay, and Portia aka Portia D Does Style!


Please introduce yourselves!

FireForged Cosplay: I’m Brandon D and I’m a CEO of a telecommunications company.

PapaBear Cosplay: From his Instagram bio: Christopher English is a co-founder of #chicagopoccosplayers, cosplay affiliate of #wizardworld, and fan creator at #syfywire. He is also the official mascot for Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.

PortiaDDoesStyle: Hi, I am Portia Lewis of @PortiaDDoesStyle on Instagram! I’m a LA resident, born and raised in Baltimore, City. My background is in painting/drawing and fibers/material studies where I have 10 years of formal fine arts training from Baltimore School for the Arts and Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Currently, aside from doing cosplay, I am a professional actress, painter, and writer.

fireforged-heimdall-spotlight
FireForgedCosplay as Heimdall from MCU’s Thor


How did you get into cosplay?

FireForgedCosplay: My friend Fred took me to my first Con in 2015. It was Wizard World St.Louis.

PapaBearCosplay: I went to a small convention years ago and I didn’t even know what cosplay was, but I saw all these people dressed up and I was captivated by it. I spent the following year learning everything I could about cosplay and creating my first costume and I have been hooked ever since.

PortiaDDoesStyle: In 2016, I discovered The Flash on The CW. I instantly fell in love with the show and needed an outlet for my all consuming obsession. So I began to dress in the everyday clothes of the characters. People loved it. They asked if I can also recreate the costumes. Somehow I was able to do this just with clothes in my closet. People loved that even more.

I began to receive requests for other Flash characters, then Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, then Marvel and eventually Star Wars and other universes and it’s grown from there. I’ve been featured in music videos and in movies in my costumes. I’ve even had the actors of the characters repost me on their pages including Wentworth Miller of The Flash/Legends of Tomorrow, Caity Lotz of Legends of Tomorrow and Kevin Smith aka Bob of Jay and Silent Bob. I couldn’t be more surprised but honored with my creative journey.


Do you have any cosplans, or are you working on any cosplays right now?

FireForgedCosplay: Barret Wallace from Final Fantasy.

PapaBearCosplay: With COVID shutting down everything, I am working on a number of cosplays, it’s been nice to have no pressure with convention deadlines to just craft things.

PortiaDDoesStyle: After being diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2019, I’ve gone through chemo which caused me to lose all of my hair. But I’ve embraced the new modelesque look, and have begun my campaign of turning lemons into lemonade by cosplaying bald characters. Some of them include Aang from Avatar, Walter White from Breaking Bad, Krillen from Dragon Ball Z, Gru, and the Minions from Despicable Me and several more yet to come!

chris legend of dragoon kongol
PapaBearCosplay as Kongol from The Legend of Dragoon


Which cosplay are you most proud of?

FireForgedCosplay: My Sith Acolyte that I made from all cardboard.

PapaBearCosplay: I am most proud of my World of Warcraft Thrall cosplay. That costume encompasses all the knowledge I gained throughout the years to complete.

PortiaDDoesStyle: I’m personally most proud of my Aang cosplay. I repurposed T-shirts I got from Michael’s in order to make the monk clothes that Aang is known for. That was also the first time I collaborated with professional editors and they really helped bring the magical world of the Avatar come to life in ways I never thought possible.


Now let’s get into the poignant questions. What does cosplaying while black mean to you?

FireForgedCosplay: An opportunity to be a great example to young children of any color.

PapaBearCosplay: Cosplaying while black means being comfortable in your own skin, and having the confidence to challenge stereotypes and norms within geek spaces and beyond. Being a black cosplayer means that it’s ok to be Batman, Superman, Sailor Moon, Wonder Woman, Goku, etc… in your black skin, and have pride in how you portray your own version of those characters and don’t listen to distractors.

Way too often black cosplayers may be met with hateful racial comments, but that should never be the reason you quit cosplaying. We are always inspiring someone new to join the cosplay community whether you know it or not, so always rise above the hate and push yourself to go even further because you never know who is looking up to you.

PortiaDDoesStyle: I’ve always been a cosplayer that cosplays any character I wanted, regardless of race or gender, especially considering that the first person I ever cosplayed was The Flash, a white male.

I know that my being black and cosplaying different characters shows representation and gives other cosplayers of color permission to dress up as their favorite characters even if they don’t look the same. For me, I’m a woman who happens to be black and I want to normalize that in the cosplay community. There can be a bit of hypocrisy when it comes to “accuracy” of the costume.

Some people think that you have to be the same skin tone or race in order to be “accurate”, however that same philosophy isn’t extended to white characters cosplaying Asian characters. In fact, I’m not sure that many white members of the community are even aware of the fact that their favorite characters are in fact Asian and not white.

portia d does style aang
Portia as Aang from Avatar the Last Airbender


How can the cosplay community do better in regards to black creators?

FireForgedCosplay: I feel like everyone just needs to realize that we’re all just cosplaying together in a safe place filled with a lot of love. No matter what color you are.

PapaBearCosplay: Support for black creators starts with commenting, sharing and liking their pages. Not everyone has money to give, but everyone can like, share, and comment on their pages. Share their photos, listen to their podcasts and encourage others to do the same. For the community as a whole it’s not enough to just not be racist we all have to be anti-racist. We must speak up against those who share hateful, ignorant viewpoints, and make sure these folks know there is zero tolerance for such ignorance.

PortiaDDoesStyle: To be fair, it can be a bit difficult to decipher who exactly is “in” the cosplay community and who is just a random observer on the Internet. I would like to believe that most of the racism that black cosplayers experience come from random observers and not within the cosplay community itself. But if I’m wrong, what I believe we can do better is to realize that this is dress up, it’s like Halloween where anyone can dress up as anything.

You don’t have to look exactly like the character to dress up as them, that’s preposterous. There are many white people dressing up as Asian characters. There are many brunettes who dress up as characters with red, blonde, or blue hair. People wear contacts because they don’t have the same eye color. If all of these practices are acceptable, then it should be acceptable when a black person wants to dress up as Rey from Star Wars.

Also, let’s progress towards normalizing seeing black people in costumes. I find it unacceptable and othering to describe cosplayers as “the black Superman” or “the black Aang” etc. If you wouldn’t mention how white characters are the white versions of the Asian characters they recreate, then don’t do this to black people. Not to mention that blatant racism, like calling cosplayers the “n” word, monkeys, or ghetto/trashy, needs to be called out and stopped. It’s cyber bullying and racism.


Thank you so much for your time. Where can people find you (i.e. cosplay pages/social media handles)?

FireForgedCosplay: My Instagram is @fireforgedcosplay.

PapaBearCosplay: Facebook and Instagram – @papabearcosplay

PortiaDDoesStyle: Instagram: @PortiaDDoesStyle; Facebook: @PortiaDDoesCosplay; Twitter: @PortiaDDStyle; YouTube: PortiaDDoes


More black creatives to give a like, share, comment, and follow: @vantablackcosplay, @mochibunnii_, @michaellargephotography, @ourshieldmaiden, @deconstructingcosplay, @somesayimmodest, @midnightpursona, @callencosplay, @kingkitsu. These are just a few. Search the #blackcosplayer and #blackcreator tags to find so many more!

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About the Author

Mandy

Cosplayer, creative writer, cookie connoisseur. Pronouns: she/they.

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