Happy Black History Month and welcome to our celebration of #28DaysOfBlackCosplay!
As part of our features this year, we’re spotlighting Blackness in cosplay, and to kick things off we sat down with TikTok, Instagram and Twitch juggernaut, Jahara Jayde, to discuss her dazzling, cinematic cosplay, racism and representation.
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Jahara! I’m 30, live in Arizona, am happily engaged, and we have a five-year-old daughter. I also have two beautiful stepdaughters! Oh, and two doggos: a pitbull and a boxer.
I stream on Twitch, cosplay and also work as a private Japanese tutor. My degree is in East Asian Studies, and I lived and worked in Japan for a while! I also happen to be vegan because I have a number of autoimmune issues and food allergies [laughs].
I would love to hear your cosplay origin story. How did you get into cosplay? What drew you to it?
I think it’s less exciting than some might think [laughs]. I went to a super tiny con in Tucson when I was in college. It was my first time, and I dressed up a little! I wore a red blazer and black skirt, like the uniform in Toradora!, but no wig or contacts or anything.
My friends at the time were more in the anime community than me, so they went to meet-and-greets, etc. while I just walked around and enjoyed the newness of things. I’d been watching anime like Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Pokemon and Naruto since I was a kid, but I’d been made fun of for it, so I hid the hobby when I was in high school, and thus never had really been around so many other people who liked it too.
I ended up buying a huge gun-blade replica because I wanted to buy something cool and big, even though I didn’t know what it was from at the time, since I hadn’t gotten into video games yet! Fast forward to 2020, I’m streaming on Twitch and promised my chat that I’d try cosplaying as Zelda if we got to 300 followers in 30 days. And we did! I had so much fun with it, I decided to keep going!
How many years have you been cosplaying?
Technically, since September 2020; before that, it was just Halloween stuff.
Are your cosplays homemade or do you buy/commission them?
Both. I’d say I make some and buy most. My passion doesn’t lie in sewing [laughs]. But I’ll do it if I think the design is simple enough and it’s unavailable to buy, or the available version’s quality is terrible.
I prefer to buy existing sets and upgrade/replace the included accessories, and tailor the costume to fit my body better! I also buy and style my own wigs, since I’m not a fan of pre-styled units.
What’s the most challenging cosplay you’ve worked on so far? What cosplay is currently your favorite?
Sailor Moon. And that’s entirely due to the wig [laughs]. Like I said, I don’t like pre-styled units, so I had to make her wig myself. And her iconic style is quite tricky, because it’s top heavy (buns) and back heavy (ponytail length) [laughs].
Plus updos are always harder because you don’t want the tracks of the wig to show! I went through a couple iterations to get what I wanted, and it ended up requiring a lot of hair! My favorite cosplay? Probably Sailor Saturn!
Racism has unfortunately been a long-standing presence in the cosplay community. What changes do you hope to see within the community in the future to combat anti-Blackness?
This is a hard question. On one hand, the straightforward answer would be “I want people to stop being racist.” But that’s too broad. So here are a few actions I thought of.
One, since the majority of cosplay is seen online nowadays, I’d like to see platforms crack down harder on racist comments and remarks. It irritates me to no end that platforms only have issues with blatant racial slurs, but don’t move against intentional misspelled versions of said slurs, using symbols or other languages.
There are also no repercussions for things like gorilla emojis, comments like “burnt [insert character]” or placing the first three letters of the N-word in front of the character’s name. I wish platforms invested more resources to mitigate anything even slightly more “creative” than a perfectly spelled slur, because right now it’s too easy for people to get around the terms of service, while subjecting young Black cosplayers to racially charged insults.
Two, I’d like to see more non-POC people in the community bring light and speak to the issue constructively. The mindset that you need to look like a character to cosplay them should be debunked. Cosplay is just a fun hobby for most! A way to pay homage to a character or series you love, just like wearing a T-shirt, or buying figures and posters. Cosplayers aren’t Hollywood actors, we’re not creating live action movies.
Complete accuracy isn’t the name of the game. Is it fun to see someone who looks just like a character dress as them? Of course! But that shouldn’t be a requirement. It’s an outdated take that stops a lot of POC from trying cosplay, due to the large disparity of dark-skinned characters in popular media.
Do you have any advice for aspiring Black cosplayers?
Cosplay. Just do it! I swear you’ll receive more support than backlash. I still receive messages and comments about how someone, or their child, feels validated to cosplay because they see someone who looks like them doing it. You WILL inspire someone, even if they don’t tell you.
Also remember that cosplay is for you. If you’re having fun, feeling creative, and are proud of what you completed, you’re golden. If you’re afraid of potential hurtful comments, as many have told me they are, know that you don’t have to post your cosplays online!
You can wear them at home or save them for a con! Most sad internet trolls would never dare say something hurtful IRL, so you don’t have to worry about that! On a technical point, you can always filter comments and put parameters on what words people can comment.
What are your cosplans? Do you have any special projects coming up?
Oh, I have so many for this year! To name a few, Dark Lady, Femme Tuxedo Mask, a lot more The Witcher stuff, Ghibli women, Cardcaptor Sakura…
Where can we find you?