We noticed cosplayer Kay Thomas getting shared around on Twitter (@kayyybear_), Facebook (facebook.com/kaythomascosplay) and Instagram (@kayyybear) recently, and noticed as well that she was stirring up controversy. Well, not exactly “stirring”—it’s not like Kay is provoking anyone. She is just being herself—you see, Kay is black, and she has been dressing as Red Sonja and other characters who are, in the original comics or video games, white.
Kay isn’t the first black cosplayer, and probably not the first black cosplayer to hear from racist internet trolls. But her rapid rise in popularity contrasted with the annoying comments really caught our attention. A lot of people really love what Kay’s doing, and consider her inspiring, which makes the haters all the more conspicuous. Kay gave us a few minutes of her time to discuss her cosplaying and the reactions to it.
How long have you been cosplaying, and what characters have you done?
I’ve been cosplaying for about 3 months now. I’ve cosplayed as Teemo, Nidalee, Kidagakash, Katarina, Red Sonja, Gamora, Cammy White, Jinx and Mad Moxxi. I try to pick characters that I have both an adoration for along with an interest in their character design. I have to be able to picture myself as the character before I decide to cosplay as it.
You’re winning fans with these costumes, but you’re also catching some grief from trolls on social media. Can you talk about the sort of reactions you’re getting, both positive and negative?
I’ve gotten some amazing postive reactions for my cosplays. The best comments I get are people that tell me that I inspire them to cosplay because they were nervous for a number of reasons. Their comments inspire me to do the same and give me the confidence to keep creating. As for the negative comments, unfortunately the only comments I’ve gotten like that regard my race, and not actually the quality of my costume. For every negative comment I get there is a positive one to accompany it, which makes the negative ones completely irrelevant!
Does there seem to be a different standard for you as a black cosplayer? Nobody seems to get too upset when white cosplayers dress up as Asian characters, for example.
I do think there is a different standard for me as a black cosplayer. I’ve had people tell me that my cosplays are bad or wrong just because I’m black and I don’t have a light complexion like the character I am dressed as. I think as a black cosplayer, in order to be recognizable your costume has to be spot on and probably ten times as accurate as the white cosplayer. Despite whatever standards others hold for you, if you want to cosplay you should hold yourself to your own standards and create the costume to impress yourself, not anyone else. You should hold yourself to that standard whether you are white, black, asian, hispanic, or any other race.
It’s interesting that gender-bending in cosplay is completely accepted—nobody seems to bat an eye when a female cosplayer does a “sexy Freddy Krueger”—but race is controversial with certain people. Why do you think that is?
Long story short: Racism still exists. I truly believe that when someone comments on my race, it’s not that they care that I don’t look like the character, but instead they feel like I simply shouldn’t cosplay as a character of a different race because they are uncomfortable with my actual race.
Back to the positive reactions—do you hope to inspire more freedom when it comes to race and cosplay, or let young fans know it’s ok to dress as whomever you want?
I try to cosplay a diverse range of characters with unique outfits and designs for this very reason! I’d love to let people know that despite what you look like it is possible to pull off any character you choose as long as you have dedication and confidence. I’m super thankful for those who have started supporting me and my cosplaying and I just want to let them know that they all also have my support. If you need advice or just someone to talk to, my inbox is open!
What costumes do you have in the works, and when will we get to see them?
My next costumes are Maya the Siren from Borderlands 2, Jibril from No Game No Life and Tyrande Whisperwind from World of Warcraft. I plan to finish those by the end of the month or early November.
Apart from cosplay, you’re dealing with a family member who is seriously ill. Can you briefly tell us about that, and how people can help?
Recently, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. It’s such a surreal situation until it actually happens to you or your family. All I ask is that if anyone reading this could send a prayer out to my dad and my family, I would be extremely thankful. I am also hosting a GoFundMe Page for my father, to help with the piling hospital bills. The link is: https://www.gofundme.com/qk8xuq2s. Thank you for your concern and any help received.