In a reversal of the Fortnite tradition of blatantly plagiarizing young black dancers, the massively successful game opted to partner with dancer YouFunnyB to create a digital version of his hit dance, the Billy Bounce. Epic Games confirmed the collaboration to Polygon on Wednesday.
Fortnite has usurped Minecraft and Pokemon Go as gaming’s hottest pop-culture craze, and a huge part of its viral popularity can be attributed to the game’s inclusion of popular dances, known in-game as emotes, that can be performed at the click of a button. Young kids have taken to imitating these emotes in their real lives, to the point where the Fortnite dance craze has spawned its own dance schools and has reportedly even been overwhelming educators struggling to deal with their squirming brood.
There’s a dark secret behind all this success, however. The signature dances that have made Fortnite so popular are stolen from largely black creators. Epic Games, the developers behind Fortnite, have continuously created digital knock-offs of dances first popularized by black artists, and has sold them without attribution or compensation to their originators. 2 Milly, the creator of the Milly Rock dance, sued Epic last year over an emote that resembled his signature move called “Swipe It.” The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor Alfonso Ribeiro also sued the company over his famous “Carlton Dance” being appropriated for an emote winkingly titled “Fresh.”
Both lawsuits have been dropped, for now.
Though the lawsuits have so far reaped no reward, Epic’s decision to retain YouFunnyB’s name for the dance, as well as to apparently seek his consent, is a promising step in the right direction. It is unclear whether if YouFunnyB is getting a cut of $5 the “Billy Bounce” emote costs in the in-game item shop.
Then again, Epic, just last week, released Fortnite’s new “Lock It Up” emote, which bears a suspicious resemblance to the “Woah” dance that has gone viral on video sharing platform TikTok. Not only is the name changed as if to obscure its origin, just like in 2 Milly and Ribeiro’s dances, but the move also does not give credit to any of its originators. One step forward, two steps back?