When Michael Washington moved to Raleigh from the suburbs of Maryland in 1998, two things about the area jumped out at him. First, everything was slower. Second, he says, was that “everyone was talking about this place called Bojangles.”
Two decades later, the Durham filmmaker still struggles with the constant availability of deep-fried everything—and with the medical realities that many men are afraid to face.
His battles with kidney cancer and obesity inspired his new documentary, Save the Dad Bod, an argument for men to surmount their fears of going to the doctor that is illustrated by his family’s health scares, including his own cancer diagnosis at 26 (“If my now-wife hadn’t made me go to the doctor, I’d be dead,” he tells me, bluntly) and his father’s near-fatal heart attack (the first of three) at age 42.
Washington, who shot the film in the summer of 2020 through his company Argyle Rebel Films, is front and center in Dad Bod, relating his experiences to the camera with a stand-up comic’s self-deprecating rhythm.
He also includes testimonials from doctors, family, cancer survivor, and Olympic gold medalist Phil Ford, and former Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee, who combine facts, statistics, and sometimes painful stories about people they’ve lost because they refused to see a doctor until it was too late.
“I didn’t want to put the focus entirely on food, though there is a lot of that,” he says. “The main focus is on the rebellious nature a lot of men have when it comes to going—or rather, not going—to the doctor, and the consequences of that.”
Save the Dad Bod began as a series of blogs Washington wrote after the self-described “fast-food junkie” began to focus not only on his health, but also on realistic ways of getting and staying healthy.
“If it’s fried and covered with horrible stuff and you make it the largest size possible, I love it, man,” he says. “But as you get older, it’s not like you can still go, ‘I’ll eat that and do a five-mile run later.’ Number one, you don’t have time, and number two, that’s a young man’s game! You have to realize that everything is about balance—calories, exercise, water intake, everything—and moderation. Always moderation.”
Washington, whose day job is senior manager of ticketing and customer care at the Durham Performing Arts Center, says he’s currently working to get the film broadcast on local outlets such as PBS or Capitol Broadcasting’s TV stations, or shown at more local theaters.
“As a guy who went to high school in Raleigh (at what is now St. David’s School), it’s my dream to get it screened at the Rialto,” he says. “Our goal is for as many people to see it as possible, and we want to distribute it ourselves, so that means setting up whatever local screenings we can.”
He’s working on a number of other films through Argyle Rebel, including one about the first Black student at UNC, another about the first Black basketball player at that school, and a film about climbing. He hopes to move into other genres, including horror films, through his company, and to make them all in North Carolina.
“We have a very diverse landscape, different cultures, and different people here, and we want to give people who’ve been historically disenfranchised in terms of telling stories a shot at telling theirs on screen,” he says.
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