Dressed in Time
Spike Lee Turns to MFA Grad to Costume His Casts
You may know the Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It” and film “BlacKkKlansman” for who’s behind the camera: Spike Lee. But you probably don’t know that the cast, with their distinctive vintage denim and leather and ’70s ponchos and turtlenecks, was dressed by a Terp.
Marci Rodgers M.F.A. ’16 learned how to bring to life Lee’s characters—and many others in theater, television and film—through their wardrobe while studying in the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies.
Costume design Professor Helen Huang, with whom she’s remained in touch, was a mentor who helped set her on the path to Hollywood success.
“When I met Helen…that is when I learned what it really meant to be a costume designer,” says Rodgers. “She taught me how to be a better artist.”
Huang, the head of TDPS’s costume design program, learned to appreciate Rodgers not only for her skill, but also for her character.
“Being a good costume designer is a full package because you need to not only know the craft of the field … it’s important to have people skills,” said Huang. “I feel she has a passion and a great sense of life.”
Rodgers earned an undergraduate degree in business administration at Howard University in 2005. She was working at its School of Law later when she met well-known costume designer and Howard University School of Arts Professor Reggie Ray.
“It wasn’t until I met Reggie Ray that I understood the mechanics of costume design,” says Rodgers. “He would always tell me it’s a business show, not a show business.”
Rodgers assisted Ray in design for Broadway musicals and plays such as “Holler If Ya Hear Me” and “The Piano Lesson.” (She hopes one day to design a Broadway play in memory of Ray, who died in 2014.)
It was through Rodgers’ assistantship to Ray on Broadway that she connected with “Mr. Lee,” as Rodgers refers to him. Soon after, Rodgers took on her first job for the director as a production assistant and shopper for 2015 film “Chi-Raq.”
Her most recent work with Lee was for “BlacKkKlansman,” based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first black police detective in the Colorado Springs, Colo., police department. In the film, he teams up with a white, Jewish colleague to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.
While the themes of hate and race in the film interested her, Rodgers distanced herself from her own reactions to the material to zero in on her job of evoking the era through the costumes she designed for the characters.
“I’m being honest when I say I look at all of this from an artistic standpoint because it’s art at the end of the day,” Rodgers said. “I removed my emotions from it because my job was to portray the characters as historically accurate as possible.”
Rodgers, who recently began working on a Netflix show based on the true story of the Gilgo Beach murders in Long Island City, knows she found the right career.
“This is my calling,” Rodgers said. “As long as I’m breathing, I’ll be in costume design.”