Why you should care
Christine Sanders’ relatable tale of young women of color navigating the recession could be her breakout work.
Sitting in a salon with her mother, Paige vents about her frustrating post-college job search in the TV business. “Baby, you know life is hard sometimes,” her mother says. Paige replies: “When does it get better?
For Christine Sanders, the real woman and writer/producer/director behind this on-screen character, that time is now. Her web series, Barely Adults, which focuses on a Black woman and her Latina best friend navigating post-financial-crash New York City, launched in the spring. Sanders, 33, is promoting the show on the festival circuit, building buzz in the hopes of getting picked up by a major network — much as Issa Rae’s Insecure and Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s Broad City migrated from web series to TV. But when we speak as she’s leaving the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, Sanders has broader goals. “I want to continue telling stories about people who have been traditionally shut out, and to tell these stories in authentic ways,” she says.
This story, set in 2008, comes in part from Sanders’ own experience navigating New York City during the financial crisis. Paige, enthusiastic and eager to please, ends up being hired as an assistant to a big-shot TV producer, although she soon finds out that this dream job isn’t all she expects it to be. The series focuses on Paige’s relationships, particularly with her best friend, Vanessa, as they confront the challenges of life as women of color. With just four brief episodes, it’s the kind of show you can binge-watch quickly.
Growing up in the Windsor Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, Sanders knew she wanted to study at New York University — so she committed everything to her goal. A mantra she heard again and again: “Average isn’t good enough.” So she got straight A’s and joined “every club under the sun.” She made it to study journalism at NYU, which she credits for opening doors in the industry, even if her 2006 graduation was poorly timed for the economy. But throughout, she maintained a singular focus. “Christine has always had a clear vision of her purpose: to bring her diverse and unique perspective to mainstream television, which she found lacking,” says close friend Alissa DePass. “Since college, she consistently sought out challenging roles where she could make the most impact.”
Right after college, Sanders worked at NBC in ad sales — not exactly making great TV, though she says it was a positive experience. Seeing her “kick-ass group of friends” succeed helped Sanders stay focused on her goals. She credits her NYU connections for career advances, and is eager to help those coming up behind her. “I know what it’s like to feel like things aren’t equal,” Sanders says. “But I know what it’s also like to be given a leg up and to have people say, ‘I want to help you.’”
Things change so fast, we’ll probably be beyond digital content in five years.
Barely Adults was a passion project, inspired several years ago by a long night of commiserating over wine with pals in the industry — living in an expensive city, competing for poorly paid jobs, being abused by bosses. She tapped her own savings, private investors and even a Kickstarter campaign to make her dream show. While the dramedy is generating good feedback — the site Femestella predicted it’s “about to be your new favorite web series” — it’s hard to break through the glut of online content without a major marketing budget. Sanders says she’s “not sure” how many views it has, but the show is “doing well.”
Perhaps Sanders’ greatest strength is flexibility. This triple threat is adept at playing with the web series format: All four episodes vary in length but max out at 11 minutes. And she’s ready to shift as needed. “Things change so fast, we’ll probably be beyond digital content in five years,” she says. “Maybe it’ll be [virtual reality], but who knows.”
Sanders has been able to survive so far by dint of her stubbornness, which she says sometimes is a “detriment.” And it was a mix of stubbornness and impatience, even though it took years to come together, that made Barely Adults a reality. It was the story she wanted to tell. No sense in waiting for some network exec to give her permission. Her advice to the young strivers, the Paiges and the Vanessas in any field: “Think about whether you want to look up when you’re 60 and think, ‘Oh, I wish I had …’ Or do you just want to do it now?”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Sanders’ course of study at NYU. It was journalism.