C'mon, we can't let all these sad Losties have all the geeky fun around here, can we? ;)
So - there's an issue that came up recently in discussing possible cosplay* around the new Doctor that I wanted to discuss. It's a bit spoilery, so I'm gonna go behind the jump here, but I know that those of you reading on RSS don't get that advantage, so I'm gonna just pause here for some spoiler identification (for my own sake as well as others'; I've only seen through episode 2 of Season 5 at the moment myself, and I ask most sincerely that you keep your discussions free of reference to events from episode 3 or beyond).
**SPOILERS BELOW! COMMENTS AS WELL, UP THROUGH S5E02**
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.
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.
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 in screen-media, as well as a concomitant lack of representation of POC in fandom (or FOC). 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.
For those wishing to educate themselves about the issues FOC face in being a visible and vocal part of greater fandom, I recommend a pair of LJ communities as a good start: foc_u - Fans of Colour United - and Racebending, the latter focused specifically on the travesty of the whitewashed cast of the live-action A:TLA (if you hadn't heard, this film will include one POC in the main cast of "good" guys, Dev Patel playing Prince Zuko - who starts out as a villain - while all the other POC in the cast are playing villains).
If we want to see a more diverse and representative fandom, as we claim, then we white fen need to shove over a bit, and make some room for FOC. And I think the most basic way we can start in doing that is to leave roles played by POC to be portrayed by FOC, and not appropriate them ourselves.
* Costume play - a form of fandom wherein the fen** dress in costumes to resemble the various characters of the fandom.
** Fen - a fan's name for fans as a group.