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Why Did New York Comic Con Reject This “Black Cosplay” Panel Proposal?

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The panel schedule for New York Comic Con has begun to take form, but we already know of at least one panel that hasn’t made the cut: a “Black Cosplay” panel submitted by Jessi Green, known by her cosplay alias, Butterfly Samurai. The panel proposal featured several other black women cosplayers as co-panelists (pictured above from left to right, starting with Jessi Green): The Venus Noire, Princess Mentality, and Maki Roll.

In an email interview, Jessi Green had this to say: “We all feel that at least getting a reason as to why our submission was rejected was of utmost importance since we have the credentials to put on an amazing panel.”

According to Green, New York Comic Con often hosts a recurring panel about cosplay diversity, and it seems likely that they’ll do so again this year. However, none of the four panelists from the rejected “Black Cosplay” panel have been asked to appear, nor have they received an explanation as to why their panel got rejected.

One of the proposed panelists, Chaka Cumberbatch (a.k.a. Princess Mentality), has written before about her experiences with racism and sexism in the cosplay community. She wrote this response to me about the NYCC panel:

Our panel was composed of women who have really gone out of their way to help people feel included at conventions – Jessi is the reason I felt comfortable cosplaying in the first place, Maki has an irrepressible spirit and unstoppable voice, and Josephine is passionate about representation and inclusion. Between us, we have over 15 years of experience navigating this subculture as women of color.

I think this panel would have been valuable, especially at such a large show like NYCC, because our stories about our experiences could have reached a lot of people – some of which may have even been still at home, not sure if they’d be welcome at the con.

Josephine, a.k.a. The Venus Noire, wrote:

I would hope that if they notice the lack of black voices in their programming they would want to make a change, and a good first step would have been to have a black cosplay panel. The experience that black cosplayers face is unique; often times dealing with racism as well as the sexism that runs rampant in online communities, having to work twice as hard to get half the recognition, dealing with microaggressions online and at conventions. It’s definitely a lot, and a panel would be a great way to talk about some of those things.

The beginnings of the idea began last February with the #28DaysofBlackCosplay hashtag, “a project that was 100% for us, by us,” says Chaka Cumberbatch.

It really helped to strengthen the community while demonstrating that Black people do cosplay, and they cosplay well. But there are still so many Black nerds at conventions who feel left out, cast aside or invisible.

Green also cited the hashtag collaboration as a source of inspiration, and elaborated:

We want to take this positivity off the internet and bring it to conventions to continue to voice awareness about Black cosplay as well as share our own personal experiences … I have run panels before, so it is not like I was new to this. Josephine presented the idea to us, and we jumped at the opportunity to try to pull this off.

Green still hopes to hear back from NYCC about their decision:

Conventions should be a lot more clearer on their submission guidelines. If they only want big names to run panels, then say that. If you need a certain number of web hits, Facebook likes, etc. then it’d be nice to know – especially when you’re legit, but getting rejected. How can I improve myself so that these conventions choose me if they do not tell me what was wrong in the first place?

Other conventions have set a high standard when it comes to covering topics like these. “Two of my favorite conventions whom I feel don’t get near enough recognition for their dedication to creating safe spaces for these types of conversations to happen are Geek Girl Con and NakaKon,” says Cumberbatch. “There are panels about body positivity, sexuality, the realities of being a geek girl in what is still very much a boy’s club, and cultural diversity in fandom. These two conventions really should be commended for the work they’re doing to make the con scene more accessible and inclusive for everyone.”

“I really think it’d be worth discussing why a show like NYCC didn’t think this discussion would be of value to their attendees, and what that means about the con’s demographics or mission as a whole,” Cumberbatch went on.

I’ve reached out to NYCC’s programming directors to inquire about their decision to reject this panel, and I will update this post should they send me a response.

(Images via Butterfly Samurai, The Venus Noire, Princess Mentality, and Maki Roll)

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