Is Cross-Race Cosplay OK?

This weekend, actress/dancer Julianne Hough and friends stepped out for a Halloween party, and as many people do, they dressed as characters from one of their favorite TV shows. In this case, the show in question is Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black”, a show about a women’s prison. You’d think that costumes based on prison wouldn’t be too controversial: orange jumpsuits, handcuffs, maybe a cop or two. Where the problem came in for Ms. Hough is that the character she chose to dress as is Crazy Eyes, an African-American woman.

Julianne Hough costume x17.jpg

(picture courtesy Fox News)

Now, while the caucasian Julliane Hough did not exaggerate her makeup to the extreme of an Al Jolson (or even Ted Danson), she did raise the hackles of the collective Twitterverse and blogosphere who promptly condemned her for her questionable costume. While it is most likely that Hough did not set out to purposefully insult anyone and was indeed attempting to pay tribute to an actress and character she appreciated, couldn’t there have been a better way to do so? Or are people restricted to the costumes they can wear based on the race into which they are born ?

At the recent Wizard World Nashville Comic Con, He Geek She Geek attended a panel on cosplay, headlined by some of today’s most popular professional costumers, including Ivy Doomkitty and Eric ‘The Smoke’ Moran. The Geeks were planning to dress the next day as two of our favorite characters in video games, Clementine and Lee from “The Walking Dead” with one small difference: while the characters are both black, we are white and were planning to play it that way. Race being such a hot button issue, She Geek asked for the opinions of Ivy (a curvaceous Latina) and The Smoke (an African-American male) on cosplaying as a character of another race.


Ivy Doomkitty and Eric ‘The Smoke’ Moran

Ivy and Smoke both agreed that cross-race play is perfectly fine, and when there is a character one loves, they should totally be able to dress as that character no matter the race or body type. They stressed that the most important thing to remember is to be tasteful. It is possible to capture the characteristics of one’s subject without exaggeration or disrespect. It is easy enough to change one’s clothes or hair for cross-race cosplay. Cosplayer Riddle even suggested  that for a fair-skinned cosplayer wanting to dress as another race, the use of a darker foundation in beauty makeup can give a deeper skin-tone without becoming an offensive stereotype. But the consensus of the entire panel was that nothing should stop you for being who you want to be.

So for those who are wanting to portray their favorite movie/tv/comic book/video game characters this Halloween, don’t be afraid but do use common sense. Costuming is supposed to be fun, not only for the cosplayer but for everyone around them. It’s a chance to be someone you’re not and live in another’s shoes for a night (or in the case of the pros, for weeks on end.) Just remember the two simple words: be respectful.


6 thoughts on “Is Cross-Race Cosplay OK?

    • I don’t think I’d dress like a woman, but I do like the Rule 63 take on superheroes from time to time, though it’s usually more successful when a woman takes on a male character rather than vice-versa.

  1. You don’t have to cross-dress to dress as a male or female character. You can take the essence of the character and make it yours. Last year I was a female Robin and this year I was a female Mad Hatter. Instead of trying to look manly, which I know I would utterly fail at, I took the things I liked about the character and made the character a woman. Of course since there was a female Robin, and she did basically wear a Dick Grayson type of uniform, that wasn’t much of a stretch anyway. The mad hatter was a little different, but I loved the result.

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