Morgan Neville’s documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, looks at the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, host of one of the greatest children’s shows ever made. I’m not nostalgic for Mister Roger’s Neighborhood the way I am for Sesame Street or The Muppet Show (don’t even get me started on Reading Rainbow), but not long after Won’t You Be My Neighbor? began, old feelings resurfaced – a warm, comforting, familiar feeling settled over me. As soon as Fred Rogers showed up on screen, speaking in his gentle “Mr. Rogers” way, I felt safe and cherished, as if briefly transported back to childhood. My unexpected reaction speaks to the power of Fred Rogers, his TV series, and his impact on children’s lives.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? makes the case that Fred Rogers’ TV persona was authentic.
Fred Rogers warm-hearted persona and message of positivity always seemed too good to be true – even more so in these cynical times. Neville documents Rogers’ career from his days producing a local TV show all the way to the end of his iconic series, using old clips and interviews with people who knew him best. The film leads viewers to a definitive conclusion: Fred Rogers was a good man.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? makes the case that Fred Rogers’ TV persona was authentic. We see Rogers invite a black man onto the show to dip his feet in Rogers’ wading pool at a time when America was racially intolerant; Won’t You Be My Neighbor? presents many more examples like this. Rogers didn’t crash land here from a planet with a red sun, but he is a Superman. He endured bullying, tough parents, as well as his show’s critics, and became a better man because of them. How inspiring is that?