'I'm Protesting As Spider-Man for the Black Lives Matter Movement'

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and I still live there now. I got my first Spider-Man suit in 2013, and have been doing Spider-Man cosplay since Easter of 2014. I'd come out of the hospital the week before and on Easter Day, I put on my suit and went to Times Square to entertain kids.

In the process of trying to find a Spider-Man suit that was more cinematic, I stumbled upon the cosplay scene. After a bit of research I discovered how to modify some of my suits to look more detailed, which also made me feel more confident when I wore them out in public places.

I then started reading more on Spider-Man himself. I'd always liked him as a kid, but as a kid all you understand is that he's a hero who fights bad guys. However, as you get older you start to understand the character more, and I felt like it was me. He's an everyday New Yorker; trying to make it, struggling to pay rent, taking things one day at a time, and putting other people before himself.

In reality Spider-Man only has a handful of super powers, he can stick to most surfaces, he has spider a sense, superhuman strength and speed just to name few. Aside from that, he's just a regular New Yorker—with genius intellect. But I feel like he resonates with a lot of people.

I was out there at the protests in New York before I climbed on Manhattan Bridge—both in and out of Spider-Man cosplay actually. The whole Black Lives Matter movement is a really big thing, because there's so much injustice towards people of colour.

Again, as you get older and more mature, you come to realize how important these things are. As a black man in New York City, in America, in this world; you realize how important your voice is, and how important it is for you to be there during these times. I felt I had to be there, being a black person and genuinely wanting a change. We need it, and hopefully better days will come sooner rather than later, because black people deserve it.

Spider-man, Manhattan Bridge, Black Lives Matter
Naiquan has been protesting both as Spider-Man, and as himself, during the Black Lives Matter protests in New York. @JSCOSPLAYART/INSTAGRAM

I want people to understand that we're not saying that all lives don't matter—because we understand that all life is important. But we want people to understand that black lives matter too. And the injustice is not fair.

When I first saw the images of George Floyd's death, I didn't think it was real. Then I heard about the video. I told my friends I couldn't watch that video, because I'm too sensitive and I knew it would anger me. So I didn't watch the video for maybe three days. When I did, it broke my heart because it makes you wonder how many weren't recorded, that we don't know about. To sit and watch a video where four police officers watch a man die, when they took an oath to serve and protect the people, it's heartbreaking. A lot of us feel like if he wasn't black, that wouldn't have happened.

People are frustrated and angry. All this could have been avoided if they had initially arrested those four officers. But now we have riots and protests and looting, and a lot of people have been hurt. I've protested for maybe a week and a half, in and out of cosplay. Usually I go to work, and straight after I go to protest, and normally during my last hour of being there I go home and change in a Spider-Man suit.

A lot of people have been happy to see Spider-man at the protests—it's like a breath of fresh air to them. Quite a few adults have reached out to me and told me that seeing Spider-Man at the protests made them emotional. People have also told me that when their children saw Spider-Man at the protests they said "he's real!" and the parents told them that Spider-Man was standing up for a very important cause. Furthermore, It's definitely a boost of morale for the crowd and everyone who is there.

I climbed the Manhattan Bridge on June 2, the first day they enforced the 8pm curfew in New York. We were marching across the bridge and some people started to worry about the curfew. As we were crossing the bridge, the 8pm curfew came into effect. So we were all standing there, at the end of the Manhattan bridge chanting,"let us through!"

Spider-man, Manhattan Bridge, Black Lives Matter
Naiquin as Spider-man on Manhattan Bridge during Black Lives Matter protests in New York City in June, 2020. @JSCOSPLAYART/INSTAGRAM

There was one guy in the crowd who was saying he was ready for a riot. However, we wanted to keep it peaceful, we just wanted to be heard and make it home safely. This Spider-Man is 5ft 10inches and it was a big crowd. So I decided I was going to climb a part of the bridge and take the high ground.

I saw a little ledge, and it was really hard to climb because I was wearing spandex. I got a grip on the ledge, and I thought I would shimmy up backwards. After I successfully got up there, I sat on the edge with my Black Lives Matter sign. There was one guy who quoted from the 2002 Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie; "If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!". Scaling that part of the bridge boosted morale and it lightened the mood in one of the darkest hours. It definitely took the energy to a more positive space.

On June 8, I was in Brooklyn, protesting again in my Spider-Man suit. This time as Miles Morales. I stood on top of my friend's car, with my fist up and Tupac's Changes playing in the background. I saw a guy come by me with a sign that said, "Black Trans Live Matter." I held it up to the crowd to show them that the black LGTBQ community needs and has our support as well. The Black Lives Matter movement relates to the LGTBQ community as well, many times they are left out of the conversation. You can't say you're for the Black Lives Matter movement but be homophobic or transphobic.

The black LGTBQ community faces just as much injustice. Thus, seeing Spider-Man with that sign probably came as a shock, it was like "he's on our side, there's no discrimination here." I think it said to people that whether you're male, female, gay, heterosexual, transgender it doesn't matter. You have a hero on your side.

The main thing now is getting people to truly and genuinely understand that Black Lives Matter, and that we want a change. I'm happy that small steps are being made, but it's heartbreaking that it took all this to happen for change to come. It's not going to happen overnight unfortunately, but people are starting to take notice and starting to make the right efforts to make the change. I did see that Governor Andrew Cuomo wants a bill passed that makes it a hate crime to call 911 and make a false accusation citing race, religion or gender. That lets us know that they're hearing our voices, that the protesting is working.

Even though I cosplay and suit up as Spider-Man at the protests, I am a proud black man. When I put on my Spider-Man uniform, it's not to be a distraction, don't take it as me hiding my skin or being afraid because that's not true. I want people to understand that Spider-Man is a symbol of hope and peace—and people resonate with that.

I hope that people understand racism and injustice will no longer be tolerated. The world is finally realizing what black people have been experiencing for years and what we've been fighting for. At the end of the day, my skin is not a sin. It's time for unity and equality. So don't be afraid to show your support. Black Lives Matter.

Naiquan is an New York City based cosplayer who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He hopes to one day start a non-profit business for children who are less fortunate. He can be found on Instagram and Twitter @cosplaynay

All views expressed in this article are the writer's own. Last name has been withheld at the author's request.

As told to Jenny Haward.