What comes next for Canadian cosplay?
By Rose de Paulsen,
Before the pandemic, the Metro Toronto Convention Center and the Toronto Congress Center were the hosts of bustling gatherings from fandoms of all kinds. Anime North and Fan Expo/Toronto Comicon are a couple of the biggest fandom conventions in Ontario. In 2020, due to the pandemic, many conventions had to close until further notice. Fan Expo came back in October 2021 on a much smaller scale than before. One of the many joys of a convention, at least from an artist’s perspective, is seeing the characters come to life through Cosplay.
Cosplay for the uninitiated involves donning a costume resembling a character from any medium, and adopting the values, personality, and traits of said character. It is a large spectrum of expression from accuracy to the original, to a personal interpretation, whether it is self-made or purchased from a professional cosplay costumer. Where fashion is the expression of one’s identity, cosplay is more often an expression of fandom and an interpretation of another’s identity. Cosplay has a long history despite being coined in the 1980’s. Before then, it is arguable to say fancy dress parties, masquerades and other costume parties of the like are earlier forms of cosplay. Cosplay is a staple of fandom, and as fandoms grow, and new fandoms are created, cosplaying has become more diverse and widespread.
Cosplay is not without its problems. In Costuming Cosplay Therèsa M. Winge outlines the many struggles of diverse bodies and identities. She identifies that there is a lot of criticism towards POC cosplaying as characters of a different race. Often cosplayers choose to cosplay characters of similar identities, while others choose to challenge the status quo. Jahara Jayde on tiktok has millions of likes for her cosplays of characters that are traditionally depicted as white or East Asian. As tiktok is the most popular social media platform with the youngest active users. This in turn means that users feel free to post progressive ideas. The cosplay community on tiktok also leans more progressive and will encourage those of diverse backgrounds to share their stories and perform in their cosplays. There are sounds (similar to threads where it sorts posts by the sound) where a cosplayer can deride gatekeepers who believe POC cannot cosplay as white or East Asian characters. A large and growing community is the modest cosplayers. Modest cosplays are focused on interpretating a character in a modest way, usually aligning with religious and cultural practices like the head wrap or hijab. Cosplayers will dress as a character, regardless of the character’s nationality, and style their hijab to look like the characters hair style. For example, if a character has red pigtails and a short skirt, a modest cosplayer might lengthen the skirt and wear a red hijab with two ties to give a similar silhouette. It is also understood that those with significantly lighter skin tones that try to cosplay characters with darker skin tones can come off as Blackface. Though there is lots of debate around what is acceptable and what is crossing the line, there is an understanding that cosplay is intended as play.
In Canada, cosplay has gone under the radar despite the fact that a many actors and shows which inspire cosplay originate in Canada. One of the biggest shows to first come out of Canada and influence years of fandom and cosplay is the X-Files (1992). Shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, the X-Files grew in popularity in the 1990’s and created a cult following that is still alive and well to this day. Because Canada has tax credits that most American studios use to help reduce prices. Supernatural (2005) was another hit show filmed in Vancouver that ran for eleven seasons, and featured creatures from Christianity to folklore. Then there are superhero shows like Smallville (2001), Arrow (2012), The Flash (2014) and Wynonna Earp (2016). Despite these shows being shot in Canada, they do not represent Canadian identity and culture in any form. These shows find popularity in fandom culture but lack the Canadian influence that shows like Corner Gas, Trailer Park Boys, and Kim’s Convenience has. It is unlikely to see someone cosplay as a character from Corner Gas rather than the more recognizable Superman or Demon Hunter. However, Canadian show Schitt’s Creek has inspired popularity for the character’s eccentric outfits. Though this is only a small drop in the pool of cosplay, Canadian-specific cosplay has only begun to grow.
In 2021 Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings starred the Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu. This put a diverse Canadian in the mainstream for playing a superhero in the largest movie franchise. Even though the character Shang-Chi is not Canadian, there is still potential for diverse Canadian characters in blockbuster media. In 2022 Disney will release Turning Red, featuring a Chinese-Canadian character written by Chinese-Canadian Domee Shi. This sharing of marginalized Canadian voices helps bring attention to discrimination that not only exists in fandom communities, but throughout society. In the future we may see the lead characters of movies and shows to be diverse Canadians and thereby inspire real social change.
Because of the financial and emotional turmoil of COVID-19, cosplay has gone through quite a lot over the past year. As the world slowly recovers, we might hopefully see new and innovative cosplays in conventions to come. And as diversity increases in our entertainment, there will be more cosplayers feeling seen, represented, and accepted as they express their art.
Here are some great diverse cosplayers From Canada:
Outside of Canada:
Winge, Therèsa M. “Girl Power to the Rescue.” Costuming Cosplay: Dressing the Imagination. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2018. 137–164. Dress, Body, Culture. Bloomsbury Fashion Central.
Plunkett, Luke. Kotaku International. “Our Favourite Cosplay from Fan Expo Canada 2019.” Kotaku Australia, 23 Sept. 2019, https://www.kotaku.com.au/2019/09/our-favorite-cosplay-from-fan-expo-canada-2019/.