For the upcoming EuroCosplay Championships, taking place in London later this month, French cosplayer Livanart decided to create an elaborate costume based on Pyke from League of Legends. Livanart is a white French woman, while Pyke is “a black guy from Bilgewater.”
Livanart had obviously worked on the outfit for a long time (she even won the French Cosplay Cup earlier this year with it), and had impressed judges enough that she was selected as one of 25 finalists for the competition. Yet last week, with the championships only two weeks away, Livanart was told by organizers that, following complaints, her cosplay would not not be allowed to participate.
Those concerns were based on the fact some saw her cosplay as an example of blackface, given her skin color vs that of the character she was portraying. While she hasn’t been banned from the competition—organizers say they are “currently looking into alternative options that allow [her] to still compete”—the timing of the decision has had largely the same effect, since it’s too late to create another costume with that much work involved.
Had Livanart simply painted her skin black, she wouldn’t have made the finals of the competition and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The timing of Livanart’s sanction, however, coupled with the nature of the cosplay and its prominence as part of a big contest, has led to a more complicated situation, one that has split opinions in the cosplay community.
While Livanart is dressed as a black character with black skin, she hasn’t applied make-up or paint; her transformation into Pyke is achieved through the wearing of a prosthetic suit. Critics see this as a loophole and believe that the same intent as blackface—to alter your skin color to match that of a black person, a practice with a terrible past—is still present in the cosplay.
Those rushing to Livanart’s defense, meanwhile, say that because her suit is a faithful recreation of the character’s likeness, it’s an act of tribute, not caricature. They also argue that because it’s a suit it’s not blackface, and that as the popular cosplay refrain goes, everyone should be free to cosplay as whoever they want, regardless of the color of their skin (even if this is a distortion of that call’s original intent, which was to encourage people of color to cosplay as white characters without having to face constant racist abuse).
In support of Livanart’s position, another finalist, JustJay from the Czech Republic, has withdrawn from the competition.
The whole thing has been one giant mess, from the response by European cosplayers and fans unfamiliar with blackface’s nuance and unwilling to listen to other’s views on the subject—Livanart herself says in this Facebook video that she spoke with “some black people” while making the suit, heard their concerns then went and did it anyway—to the organizer’s timing causing this to become news in the first place.
At least EuroCosplay is now looking at ways to avoid this in the future, by being more explicit in spelling out the rules of entry into the contest.