Published Apr 23, 2018The world could really use a Mister Rogers right about now. In an age characterized by vitriol and hate, someone who exudes peace, warmth and self-acceptance on an international level can seem a unifying force in these uncertain times.
Won't You Be My Neighbor? chronicles Fred Rogers' rise from warm-hearted seminary school student to beloved children's edutainer. But, more than that, it's a snapshot of American life through the eyes of its purest orator.
Many remember Rogers as a cardigan-clad man with a soft voice, the mild-mannered host of long-running children's program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. All of that is true, but Won't You Be My Neighbor? casts Rogers as an iconoclast, as a powerful advocate in securing public broadcasting funding and as a shaper in conversations surrounding political assassinations and ending racial segregation. His willingness to provide an alternative to loud, often violent children's TV programs inspired generations of learners and dreamers, and his impact is fully explored in this documentary.
Directed by Morgan Neville (best known for Academy Award-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom), Won't You Be My Neighbor? blends archival footage spanning Rogers' entire career with new interviews from those Rogers impacted over his 74 years, including family, friends, coworkers and even the parents of a quadriplegic man featured on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood as a child. The film offers endless, glowing praise for a man guided by a need to love and be loved.
Not much is needed to orient Rogers' story in today's political context — King Friday XIII, one of the many puppet denizens of Rogers' "Neighborhood of Make-Believe" segment, builds a wall in a Vietnam War-era episode — a testament to Rogers' universal, transcendent messages of peace, love and self-acceptance.
This film is a beacon of hope and a reminder of what's missing in today's tense and divided socio-political climate. There will never be another Mister Rogers, but Won't You Be My Neighbor? is a powerful reminder that his lessons and demeanour are everlasting, sure to inspire a new generation of dreamers. (Focus Features)