A popular Argentinian cosplayer found herself in the middle of a heated debate when she painted her skin brown to portray Vivienne, a character from the video game Dragon Age.
After Lilia Lemoine, who goes by the name LadyLemon, posted a “Black skin test” picture of herself painted brown as Vivienne, she was criticized for partaking in blackface. While many cosplayers said her makeup choice was no different from folks painting themselves blue or green to resemble non-human characters, others objected, citing the racist history of blackface around the globe.
One Facebook user, Jessica Green, wrote, “Must be nice to be able to wash that skin color off at the end of the day so that you do not get racially profiled in stores like I have…or get discriminated against by government officials like I have…or get called racial slurs on/off the internet like I have.”
Another, Maya McGhee, commented, “ My skin color is not a costume.”
Initially, Lemoine said she didn’t understand what the problem was because she’d been made fun of for being “too white” as a child.
“I live in Argentina, and I got mocked as a child for being too white (they used to say that I took the colors of the walls… and that was sad for me as a kid),”she wrote on Facebook. “I’m sorry if this is offensive to you, I never meant to be offensive.”
However, Lemoine argued she had the right to pain her skin brown because it’s just a costume and she wanted it to be accurate.
“This is cosplay… the character is Black. Isn’t offensive if I do it white?!” she asked. “That would be disrespecting the character! Sorry, I can’t believe that you are abused in your own country for your skin color in the XXI century! That’s terrible!”
Despite her claim that dressing up as Vivienne would be “disrespectful,” several commenters chimed in to say otherwise. Many pointed out that cosplayers of color don’t paint themselves white when dressing up as white characters.
— #ChakaVersusZombies (@princessology) February 24, 2015
One Black cosplayer, Harry Crossland, even shared an example of a non-Black woman dressed as Vivienne.
“Ladies and gents, this is how you cosplay this SAME costume without resorting to coloring your skin,” Crossland wrote.
Predictably, some chimed in with pictures of Black folks like the Wayans Brothers and Dave Chappelle dressed as white characters to show that Lemoine’s action weren’t wrong; however, there is no historical record of people of color painting themselves white to systematically degrade and oppress white folks. The reverse can’t be said.
Once she was heavily criticized, Lemoine recorded a video saying she “hates” racism and doesn’t understand it. She also went on to say she doesn’t know anything about American history, and after researching blackface, she thinks her attempt to be Vivienne is very different because she “wasn’t making fun of Black people.”
Lemoine said she’s been bullied as a result of posting the picture, and “she’s sorry for the pain racist people can cause to Black people.”
While Lemoine’s ignorance and apology seem sincere, cosplayers of all races can sidestep such controversies if they avoid painting their skin to look like a human character.
So cosplayers, go crazy with the wigs, costumes, and accessories, but don’t paint your face to look like a character of a different race. Period.