Howard Alumna Creates Path In Costume Designing, Styles Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Contributed by Imani Pope-Johns of the Howard University Newsroom

Howard University alumna Marchlena “Marci” Rodgers has secured her place in history as a costume designer, or as she prefers to say, a ‘visual historian,’ for some of the industry’s most acclaimed Broadway and film producers, including Spike Lee. Audiences will be able to view her artistic vision in Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, when it opens nationwide on August 10.

As a graduate of the School of Business where she studied business administration and marketing, Rodgers took a risk on leading with her passion and adding value to herself. She has worked as an intern, researcher, personal assistant, shopper, and now hails as a costume designer who is open to learning even more. When she was an undergraduate student, the diverse fashion on the campus influenced her interests, but the business school ignited her drive.

“When I was at Howard, we were always featured as one of the best-dressed campuses, but I will say that Howard taught me how to be a go-getter. You have to learn how to be a great collaborator,” says Rodgers. “That’s when people want to work with you. That’s very important! The School of Business taught me how to network and expand beyond my reach to obtain a goal. Most of my fashion sense was influenced by the diversity of the campus.”

Directing the vision for fashion on screen and onstage, Rodgers has been able to shine where many may overlook, but she had to begin somewhere. She started as an assistant in 2013 with the late fashion designer and Howard professor Reggie Ray, who was known for styling Maya Angelou to Keith Alan Baker. In 2015, she worked with Ruth Carter, who’s known for her work in Black Panther, Selma, and Malcolm X. Now, Rodgers leads her own costume designing team.

In preparation for BlacKkKlansman, Rodgers took a more historical approach to the costume design with the help of the historical data housed at Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Rodgers conducted her film research there and digested an immense amount of information on Kwame Turé and the African American community during the seventies.

“I read through piles of archived EBONY and Jet magazines and visited the National Archives in D.C. to inform myself of the expressive sentiment and fashion post-civil rights movement,” says Rodgers. “Keeping these resources around is important to continue to tell those stories.”

The film is adapted from the book, Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth, on the infiltration of the KKK by an African American detective who eventually becomes the head of the local chapter. It is also the winner of the Grand Prix at the 2018 Cannes Festival.

Also, Rodgers is the costume designer for Spike Lee’s, She’s Gotta Have It series on Netflix, the modern remake of the 1986 movie. She pulls inspiration from her hometown Chicago, New York, D.C. and the modern Black arts and music scene where the production is set. She’s not afraid to take risks on the show as she styles the characters. As a result, the series was nominated for Best Television – Contemporary TV Film Series by the Costume Designers Guild.

Rodgers received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Howard, her Corporate M.B.A. from Florida International University, a Certificate in Fashion Design and Marketing from London Fashion College: Central Saint Martins in London, England, and her M.F.A. in Costume Design from the University of Maryland.

As Rodgers prepares garments for the next day of shooting of the She’s Gotta Have It remake, one thing is certain. There is much more to come from this visual historian.

WHUR Contributor

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