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This black Batman rocked a little boy’s world

‘You’re brown, just like me.’

It was at this year’s Dragon Con in Atlanta when super cosplayer Charles Conley realized that the importance of diversity in character depiction is a growing concern of many cosplaying adults and children. So he’s doing his part to show that cosplay fandom is not one-dimensional. He recently told the story on his Facebook page of an encounter he had when he met a little boy “about 5 or 6 years old” who noticed he was a “Brown Batman.”

“This little boy saw me approaching and immediately stopped dead in his tracks, tugging at his mother’s hand. I could see him point at his hand (the skin) and then pointing to me,” Conley wrote. “I approached and he was a little intimidated at first as any little kid is when meeting a life-sized armored character. I knelt down and reached out my hand for a high five. With all the force he could muster he slapped my hand, with the biggest smile on his face. He told me he wanted to ask me something so, still kneeling I leaned in with my ear. ‘Batman,’ he said timidly, ‘You’re brown, just like me! Does that mean that I can be a real superhero someday too? I don’t see a lot of brown superheroes …’”

The 25-year-old admitted those words from the boy “touched the deepest part of his soul.”

“I then ignored my #1 Batman rule and removed my cowl so he could see my face. His face lit up and I teared up even more. I looked this kid dead in the eye and said, ‘You can be any superhero you want to be and don’t ever let anyone tell you different.’ ”

A cosplayer is someone who dresses as a fictional character. The word is a shortened fusion of two words — costume and play. The characters range from comics to anime to sci-fi and much more and the cosplayers take pride in displaying a high level of pride for their portrayal.

There is a rising group of people of color who participate in cosplay functions around the world, yet they are still not always accepted as individuals who can accurately depict a character who’s not of the same ethnicity.

The hashtag #RepresentationMatters has been floating around social media for quite some time and is fitting for matters such as diversity in cosplay. As viewers attempt to digest more diversity on television and in the media, the hashtag has become more popular.

In 2015 the Columbia Chronicle addressed the discrimination and invisibility black cosplayers face. The media outlet described the accounts of different participants who have experienced rejection in that space. It told the story of a few cosplayers including Andre Duval, who was once cosplaying Nightwing — Batman’s first Robin. “I heard all kinds of stuff walking from the convention center like, ‘Oh, look, it’s Blackwing,’ or, ‘It’s N—–wing,’” he told the Columbia Chronicle.

Conley, however, was reminded by the young admirer that it’s important to continue to represent for cosplayers of color.

“These kids are growing up in a country where you can so easily feel like less than because your skin is darker,” he wrote. “Police brutality and racism are being made ever so visible by today’s multimedia outlets and these kids aren’t blind, they take that in. For kids like this little boy, the idea that you can one day be a superhero, no matter what your skin color is, opens up a whole new world for them. This is why I cosplay. This is why I’m The Batman.”

Now at 12,000 likes and more than 5,500 shares, Conley is spreading the word that representation actually does matter.

 

Dragon Con’s website boasts that it is the “largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe.” Launched in the fall of 1987, Dragon Con’s founders set out to merge different fans with multiple interests. The company posted on Twitter, “Superheroes come to @DragonCon in all ages, shapes, sizes and colors. #Representation Matters.”

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.