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Will 'Frybread' Be the First TV Sitcom About Native Americans?

An interview with actor J.W. Washington, who stars in 'Frybread,' a proposed Native American sitcom that is currently seeking funding.
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Actor J.W. Washington starred in the 2011 ensemble comedy-slash-mockumentary More Than Frybread as the character Donathon Littlehair, the fastidious, if incompetent, president of the fictional Arizona Frybread Chapter of the World Wide Frybread Association (WWFA). Fans of the film will be happy to know that Washington has teamed up with the production company again and they are attempting to expand the concept into a television show, simply entitled “Frybread.” If they are successful, it will be the first Native American sitcom. Two-thirds of the pilot episode has been shot and the company is promoting their kickstarter campaign in order to complete production.

Though he is Choctaw and Shawnee and comes from Oklahoma, Washington was raised in the Navajo Reservation in Window Rock, Arizona where he first started acting.

“I was always interested in acting,” Washington says. “I did high school drama. When I got out of college I was involved with community theater on the Navajo reservation; we had plays in what used to be an old bowling alley structure, it was a BIA building. I was doing that and just before they started auditioning for the film I began talking some acting classes in the Sedona Film School, which is nearby.”`

Nanook listens to a gramophone for the western world's amusement in 'Nanook of the North.'

While “More Than Frybread” deals with the fictional 1st Annual Frybread Championship in Arizona, with 22 master chefs from the different tribes in the state competing, the television show begins with the WWFA falling apart. It’s up to Donathon Littlehair to put it back together. 

“There’s a joke, because I’m bald on the top, so ‘Donathon Littlehair’ has very little hair,” Washington laughs.

Washington says that, in the proposed series, each episode would involve different people, but Littlehair would be part of the small core cast that will be in each episode and tie everything together. “Donathon is a loveable nerd. He overdresses; I wear a suit throughout the movie and I have these different bolo ties. He also worships frybread; the frybread, the contest and his organization is really important to him. At the same time, he doesn’t have everything completely together. He thinks he does, but he doesn’t.”

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Because of his character's central function, Washington says, he doesn’t get to improvise as much as his fellow actors. But he sees the improvised dialogue as the most important aspect of both the film and possible television series’ success.

“That gives it a lot of authenticity in terms of Native American culture,” Washington said. “The things that Native Americans laugh about and joke about with each other are in that movie because the actors were improvising, they are joking just like they might be joking to their friends and family.”

Washington said that while most of the filming is done, he doesn’t see the television project going forward without additional funds. “Like the film, this project gives the opportunity for Native American actors to work professionally.”

To learn more about "Frybread" and see some footage from the unfinished pilot, visit the project's Kickstarter page.

Below is an interview with Washington about the movie More Than Frybread, as well as the film's trailer: