This story originally appeared on LX.com
You might think that in the land of cosplay, where millions across the globe dress up as their favorite fictional characters from across the spectrum of television, film and comics, there would be wide acceptance and little judgment. It is, after all, just make-believe.
But if you think that you would be dead wrong.
As with every other corner of society racism and bigotry have pervaded the world of cosplay, as Black, Asian and other people of color say they are often condemned for portraying characters outside their own race.
Emmy Bodt works for Ever After Storybook Entertainment, a company that brings princesses based on popular franchises to life for parties and events. She's long enjoyed participating in cosplay but says it has a dark underbelly that many are not aware of. "Cosplay is awesome. It really is. But often the experience is not the same for people of color."
Bodt's company hires people of color who dress as popular Disney characters like Moana and Princess Jasmine from 'Mulan.' But when they dress up as white characters... say Elsa from 'Frozen,' that's when they receive backlash, both in-person and online.
"The biggest challenge is the racism. Everyone telling us that 'X' character isn't Black or 'X' character isn't African," says Bodt. "It's frustrating because how do I respond to that?"
That experience is echoed by Jennifer Williams, who has made cosplay her passion for well over a decade. She's amassed a legion of followers under the name cosplay name Jenevieve Devereaux. But as a Black woman often the comments directed toward her run the gamut from rude to outright racist.
"A lot of the times it will be either you're the Black version of this character or the hood version of this character or the N-word version of this character," said Williams. "It's frustrating. We do our best to combat it but it makes us feel like we're not a part of the community."
Black people aren't the only cosplayers to face racism in the community. Bryan Lee, who is Asian, likes to dress as rebellious anti-hero characters. But he has also cosplayed as Disney princes at fundraising events only to be told a Chinese person cannot cosplay as a European prince.
"Cosplay really is and should be a personal thing," said Lee. "The character is a manifestation of an aspect of yourself you shouldn't have to worry about what other people think about your look."
Bodt is hoping to use her reach as a social media influencer to spread the word about racism in cosplay. She's created Cosfam Productions, a filming production team with the goal of highlighting diversity and representation in the cosplay community. She's also working on a series called “Pass the Cosplay Mic” that lets people of color share their issues with racism in their community.
"I'll use the influence in the platform that I have to speak for those who don't have a voice yet," says Bodt. "Because everybody has a voice."