The escape of transformation: a conversation with Jonathan McHugh, director of 'Cosplay Universe.'
Hope Town Bulletin
November 28, 2018
Written by: Karina Craig-Pinder
Is there a link between dressing up as a popular anime character and the elaborate festivities of the Bahamas? Director Jonathan McHugh certainly believes there is, as mentioned during my conversation with him earlier this week about his film, Cosplay Universe, which will premiere next week in Hope Town at The Bahamas International Film Festival.
McHugh has produced over 30 films including Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue, Justin Beiber: Never Say Never and Crossroads starring Britney Spears and Dan Ackroyd. He was initially inspired to create this documentary about the world of cosplay after visiting his first ever Comic-Con event in 2007. McHugh attended the widely attended entertainment and comic conference to publicize Snoop Dogg’s 2007 film Hood of Horror, but what he didn't expect was to become fascinated by the community of devoted fans who celebrated their love for film and comic book characters through intricate costume designs. He, along with his partner, Co-Director Jordan Rennert, who was shooting at Comic-Con, decided that this world of devout fandom was ripe for the focus of a documentary, and thus the production of Cosplay Universe began.
To McHugh, Cosplay Universe is an exploration of the rise of the global Comic-Con movement and the community of "cosplayers" that helped build it. For those of you unfamiliar, cosplay is "the practice of dressing up as a character from a film, book, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga or anime.” However, McHugh would argue that it is so much more than that, rather, it is a “transformation." To him, each individual develops the spirit of the character and fully becomes that character in mind and body. Practicing cosplay allows one to express who they are and who they want to be, and therefore to McHugh, it is such a big aspect and wonderful attribute of the community. “The transformation allows people to become who they want to be and try out a persona,” McHugh states. Sometimes this can have a real impact on individuals in their real lives. Some cosplayers enjoy switching between different gender characters, something that is accepted by the cosplay community. These allowances to explore one's identity have even made some comfortable enough to transition into transgender men or women, a decision they've attributed to this global community's emphasis on acceptance.
The film follows a few cosplay teams as they head to Nagoya, Japan to compete in what's known as the ‘Olympics of Cosplay.' Much like the beloved Bahamian tradition of Junkanoo, the teams competing are judged based on costume design, performance and originality. One American team is featured in the film as they head to Japan for the competition. The film visits one of the top cosplay performers, YaYaHan, out of Georgia, providing an in-depth look into the competitiveness and devotion of this underground world. The film also includes one of the last interviews of the legendary Stan Lee, creator of epic heroes such as the X-Men, Spider-Man, and Black Panther, who passed in November of this year.
McHugh, who arrives next week for his first time to Abaco, is especially excited to showcase his film to our community due to the Bahamas already having an established connection through a similar event to cosplay: Junkanoo. Much like the diehard cosplayers, Bahamians celebrate the Junkanoo spirit by showcasing our rich culture through bright, elaborate costumes, performance and dance. "To let yourself go in the spirit of the performance is a universal theme," McHugh says, and you can come experience it (along with the spirit of cosplay) through his movie.
Cosplay Universe will have it's World Premiere to the public in Hope Town, Wednesday, December 5th. Tickets are being sold now at Hope Town Harbour Lodge.