“The thing that I’m most passionate about is trying to tell the story of our family…”
Peter Saji’s big, beautiful blended-ish family is literally what sitcoms are made of and you might soon meet them. This dynamic writer previously put his pen to work for cultural phenomenon Black-ish before co-creating Mixed-ish alongside Kenya Barris and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Driven by a passion for “making shows that matter”, he’s planning to write and direct his first movie and recently landed a new multi-year overall deal with ABC Signature.
In addition to his stellar writing work, Peter’s VERY busy being a dad and husband in his 8-person family. He and his wife Amber Saji recently chatted with BOSSIP about their brood that includes six foster kids, tons of hijinks, and cackle-causing shenanigans that inspire Peter’s work.
Tell me about your family. You jokingly told me you have “too many kids.
Amber: We have six kids total, ages six to 16. I came into the relationship with two, biologically they’re my niece and nephew, but I adopted them and I’ve had them since birth, so they’re my children. And then I had a brother that went to prison so I got legal custody of his four children. So six total. I’m an L.A. native from Inglewood, people are always interested to see how light I am but how hood I am and I contribute that to Inglewood. I’m very proud of where I’m from and we just have all these children. Do you want any? Do you have any kids?
I live in a studio apartment, I don’t have room. I appreciate the sentiment but no. Peter, how has your family life influenced your work? Because I’m sure that has to be a huge part of your life with six kids and your wife.
Peter: Our life has become a sitcom basically. This one story I tell a lot is last Christmas, Amber wanted us to get the kids on bikes for Christmas. And I was just like, ‘Look like they don’t really have a great place to put them, they’re gonna get stolen’, and they did. She’s a better person than me, she adopted these kids and took in these other kids and she feeds the homeless. She went to the overpass and was just like, ‘You know, I take care of you guys, I feed you every day. Why’d you take these bikes?!’ [Our daughter] was videotaping from the car and I see the tape and she’s wearing slides. And I’m just like, ‘First of all, don’t do it. Second of all, if you do, do it, don’t do without me. And lastly, don’t do it in slides.’ So she has our son with her, he’s the second oldest, she’s like, ‘Come get your bike.’ She gets him on the bike and they ride off. And then I look at it later and I’m like, ‘Whose bike is this?!’ And so she had actually taken the wrong bike, she just stole like a random person’s bike. That’s like what kind of inspires me constantly because all the kids from six to 16 they’re all going through different things, they all have different personalities. When it comes to our family’s story, it’s just gonna write itself.
What kind of stories do you want to tell with this new overall deal? You’re in the driver’s seat, you get to write your own narrative and you get to tell the story authentically.
Peter: Right now I’m in a really interesting position, just because a lot of people have come to me with different stories. Two sports heroes of mine have come to me with projects and I like both of those. And a really, popular actor has also come to me, and that’s really flattering, and I love his story as well. The thing that I’m most passionate about is trying to tell the story of our family like I said, it just kind of writes itself. I don’t really know why I haven’t tried to write it before, honestly, like, I think I’d been a little reluctant to just turn the lens truly at myself. Even with Mixed-ish, I’m biracial, and that’s my experience to some degree, but, you know, I’ve never been a 13-year-old girl so that’s not really my experience. And still with Black-ish, I’ve had a lot of experiences, but that’s not my experience, either. So I’ve been always been able to tell stories from a little bit of a distance. And I think, now I’m sort of in a place where that’s that’s important to me to sort of tell this story, because, her [Amber’s] story is very inspiring. She grew up in foster care and to go from that, to now she’s finishing up her master’s is statistically improbable.
Amber: I wouldn’t change it. And a lot of times when people say, ‘Oh, my God, I can never do that [fostering].’ I just feel weird, because I’m like, it’s so if you had nieces or nephews, and you have the means to take care of them…it’s just a weird thing to me. I just feel like you just pay it forward. I’ve fostered and adopted over 15 kids. But yeah, I would say half were relatives of mine. But then half were not, I even had someone that was from a different country. I’m passionate about where I came from. And like, I just always feel like it just takes one person to make the difference in the life of the child. And if they can come in, use me and my utilities for a little bit, that’s okay with me. I just feel like, well, maybe I would encourage others [to foster]. And I have a lot of friends and family that I’ve encouraged to foster or adopt. And so I’m very proud of that. But I think, yeah, that’s what I’m most passionate about, like the kids our future youth, especially those that are underprivileged or living inner city. And I think it’s a beautiful thing.
How do you feel Amber about your husband bringing your family’s story to life?
Amber: I’m petrified. He’s written some inserts, and I’ve read them and I already called the school because they follow him and so I called and said, ‘Listen, he’s working on this. And, you know, there’s some things that are just good for television.’ He [Peter] said, ‘No, but that really happened!’ I said, ‘We’re not gonna say that right now. It’s good for TV.’ I’m petrified, not so much about my story, because I feel this part of my testimony but the examples he’s using. I’ve given the kids’ school an update like, listen, you know, this is in the works.
Peter, one thing we hear about with the writing scene is that there is a lack of diversity. Throughout your years of being in this business, have you seen that change?
Peter: It’s changed. I mean, from pre-Blackish, you know, there hadn’t been like a big network show, a black show, since My Wife and Kids so it came out a little bit before Empire, and then those two shows together, kind of changed the culture. After that it’s Atlanta, and it’s Insecure, and Snowfall. And now, like, there’s not like, a token black character on shows, there are lots of black casts. Then the most important thing, I think after Black-ish is the first attempts to replicate it, it was Black faces, but not Black voices. And now, like, there’s a lot of Black showrunners, a lot of Black writers getting overall deals at different studios. So you know, it still feels low-key too good to be true, honestly but it’s been going on for a while now. So, you know, maybe this is something that’s improved. I mean, it seems that way. Let’s be hopeful, right?