On [dis]play: Outlier resistance and the matter of racebending superhero cosplay

  • Ellen Kirkpatrick Kingston University
Keywords: Affirmational/transformative binary, (Counter)storytelling, Fan activism, Representation


A consideration of minoritarian fan responses to minoritarian representation within the Western mainstream superhero genre reveals that minoritarian representation within the genre—on and off page and screen—is notoriously problematic. Yet despite the absences, exclusions, and periodic hostility, the genre remains popular with minoritarian fans and audiences. But how do fans of color keep a beloved, yet often toxic, genre alive and meaningful? This essay considers this question by reviewing resistive and transgressive meaning-making strategies adopted by excluded and maligned superhero fans. Through the lenses of ethno- and Afrofuturism, it unpacks racebending cosplay: an embodied costuming practice—anchored in broader activist traditions of racebending—that reworks the source character's established race and ethnicity. Spotlighting lived experience as a distinguishing and critical aspect of resistance this essay witnesses how, by calling out and disrupting the whiteness of mainstream Western superhero culture, racebending cosplayers perform a powerful form of resistance.

Author Biography

Ellen Kirkpatrick, Kingston University
PhD Candidate Performance and Screen Studies