Leo Bane is a self-proclaimed international cosplay judge and fitness model who has played such hunky geek favorites as Disney’s Hercules, Game of Thrones’ Khal Drogo and Street Fighter II’s Ryu. However, Bane recently posted that whenever he posts Instagram pics of himself dressed as Sailor Neptune from the anime series Sailor Moon, he loses followers. That hasn’t discouraged him from doing crossplay as her, but it does raise questions about the biases of cosplay fans and whether there’s ever a wrong way to do cosplay.
Cosplay vs. Crossplay
Cosplay, for you non-geeks out there, is an abbreviated word meaning “costume play” or dressing up as a character from a movie, book, comic or video game. Cosplayers typically wear these costumes for comic book or sci-fi conventions as a way to have fun, show off their costuming skills or build a brand around their masterful imitations of pop-culture favorites.
When a male-identified person plays a female-identified character (or vice-versa), it’s referred to as “crossplay.” So basically, Bane enjoys crossplaying as Sailor Neptune, and it’s easy to see why: He looks sexy and amazing.
However, in a recent Instagram post, he wrote, “I noticed that when I post a pic of this costume, each time, I’m losing some followers.”
He continued, “You know what? I will continue on this way because that’s mean I’m losing some closed minded people and I only need crazy badass and open-minded spartans in my phalanx.” Phalanx is a Greek-derived word meaning a group of soldiers or officers in tight formation.
Is there ever a “wrong way” to cosplay?
Although it’s getting better, traditionally there has been lots of gatekeeping from fans who think there’s only one way to “correctly” cosplay their favorite characters.
Take the case of Sailor Bubba, a large-bodied bearded man who, in 1999, crossplayed as Sailor Moon at the Anime Central convention. While some people loved how awesome he looked, other fans got angry at him for “mocking,” “trolling” or “screwing up” their favorite character, claiming he was too fat, male and hairy to play her.
More recently, there has been an ongoing conversation about whether it’s offensive for white cosplayers to dress up as characters of color (say white characters dressing up as Asian characters from Legend of Korra or African characters from Black Panther).
While some geeks of color don’t mind, as long as it doesn’t involve blackface or yellowface (which are never OK). But others say that it “completely and effectively erases the racial identity of these representations” and impedes on the tiny number of black characters in pop-culture.
Although cosplay fan Kayal Swaminathan acknowledges that it may seem unfair to ask white cosplayers not to play dark-skinned characters, she says that cosplayers of color often face harassment, physical violence and racial epithets when they play white characters — types of harassment that white cosplayers rarely face for playing characters of color.
Additionally, cosplayer Talynn Kel notes that many popular comic books were developed in a pre-Civil Rights era when comic books had to show respect for all government institutions, like police, and artists were forbidden from depicting any crime, such as a black person drinking from a “Whites Only” drinking fountain.
Quite simply, racism is built into cosplay because cosplay is rooted in racist intellectual properties. Everything from the lack of Black women characters to the criticisms and outright rejection Black people experience while trying to participate in fandom illuminates this issue. We watch shows about futures that have no Black people, and fantasize about alternative histories that somehow have no Black people. Worlds with dwarves, trolls, orcs, wizards, dragons, unicorns, and all types of mythical creatures and possibilities somehow still manage to have no Black people.
In short, while the racial politics of cosplay remains a thorny issue — as we mentioned, Leo Bane has cosplayed as a Japanese fighter Ryu from the Street Fighter II video game — crossplay should seemingly be less so.
In fact, Bane’s 20,900 remaining Instagram followers shows that most appreciate his work, whether he crossplays as Sailor Neptune or not.
What do you think of Leo Bane doing crossplay as Sailor Neptune? Sound off in the comments.
Images via Leo Bane’s Instagramanime cosplay geek race Sailor Moon