sanders1
Scott Sanders describes his UF experience to Mira Lowe and audience.

Oprah Winfrey, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, Gloria Steinem and Diana Ross are among the celebrities Scott Sanders calls his peers and friends.

He also, at one point, called UF his home.

Sanders is a UF College of Journalism and Communications alumnus. As part of the “Great Storytellers” series hosted by the college, he was invited back to Gainesville Thursday to give a talk to UF students in the Reitz Union Chamber. 

In his talk, Sanders emphasized how important it was for him to find “pockets of community” within his college experience. For him, those included the WRUF radio station, friends at The Alligator and his fraternity brothers.

“When you go to a university of this size, you have to find your tribe in whatever ways or shapes that comes in,” he said.

Though Sanders has fond memories of his time in college, he transitioned successfully into his career and is now producing many highly anticipated projects.

One of his newest projects is the movie adaptation of “In The Heights,” based on the original musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Sanders said that in 2012 he produced the movie, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” which Miranda had a small part in. Miranda approached Sanders on set, telling him about his musical and how he wanted to adapt it into a movie. 

Sanders and Miranda brought the “In The Heights” movie pitch to 11 studios, including Disney, and they all turned it down. After Miranda created the hit Broadway show “Hamilton,” Sanders and Miranda were able to successfully re-pitch the “In The Heights” movie. It’s now set to be released June 26.

Before “In The Heights” and other successes, Sanders co-produced the musical version of “The Color Purple” with Oprah Winfrey. In the talk, Sanders described how he had the idea of producing the book, written by Alice Walker, into a musical for decades. 

“I tend to gravitate towards stories of triumph over adversity,” he said. 

Sanders continued to explain that famous stories from Shakespeare and the Bible would never have a conversation about race surrounding them. But when he pitched “The Color Purple” and “In The Heights,” executives said the projects wouldn’t be successful because of the racial elements. 

The original Broadway adaptation of “The Color Purple” got 11 Tony nominations in 2006, and the 2016 revival got four nominations.

At the end of the event, audience members had the opportunity to ask Sanders questions. One of those audience members was Maria Valdivia, a 21-year-old UF advertising senior. Valdivia asked Sanders about the role producers have in the #MeToo movement. 

Sanders responded by telling Valdiva she was his “favorite person in this entire room” and explained how he always believes the victim and that people who do terrible things should be held accountable.

When talking about how a UF alumnus can become that accomplished, Valdivia said, “It does feel reassuring to know that there’s someone successful in the business that was an advertising major.”

Contact Julia Collins at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JuliaAnnCollins.