“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is the movie that the world needs right now, it’s the ultimate superhero tale. It’s about a man who grew up experiencing nothing but pain that decided one day to take his ability to talk to children and his education and use it as a tool for good and for changing the world. And change the world Fred Rogers did, as he one day took a step back and decided that the world needed some kind of force for good. He knew that could mold children and use the medium of television as a valuable tool that could turn every single child, no matter what race or religion, in a neighbor and a friend.
Morgan Neville’s documentary tells the tale of one of the most iconic child personalities of all time, Mr. Rogers, or Fred Rogers. Fred Rogers is a man who spent most of his life ill and battling weight issues, who decided one day to stall his career as a minister and start investing in children’s television. Rogers put a lot of stock in the potential children had to change the world and communicate in ways that adults simply couldn’t. He sought to tap in to a corner of television that was woefully unpopular during the fifties. Fred Rogers began using his show as a way, not only of speaking to children, but of venting his own frustrations about his life, and the world around him. What we saw on television was a mild mannered man coming to grips with his own painful childhood.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” depicts Fred Rogers as a man of genuinely great intention who sought to break down barriers and even had his own eyes open time and time again. Rogers didn’t see much importance in the idea of race, and even religion, and managed to defy a lot of the then social norms. One of the most important instances, for example, was when he invited character, and African American Officer Clemons, to share a foot pool with him to cool off his feet. This was during a time where African Americans weren’t allowed to swim with whites. Fred Rogers wasn’t intentionally about rebelling against the system, he’s discussed as being just a man filled with so much acceptance and appreciation that ideas of discrimination and prejudice weren’t just foreign to him, but absolutely absurd.
I’m definitely one of Mr. Rogers’ kids, a person who grew up watching his show and learning all of the values preached. Neville’s film is exhaustive in examining Mr. Rogers’ cultural impact, and how he managed to positively affect the people closest in his lives, and how open minded he was to people from all walks of life. Neville even touches on the darker elements of Mr. Rogers’ life, from the pop culture satires, his failed spin off where he conversed with adults, and the way he figured out how to touch on important tragedies like the Challenger and 9/11. “Won’t You be My Neighbor?” is a wonderful film, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears here and there. It’s a movie that proves that your past doesn’t have to define you, and that your past doesn’t also have to hinder the type of person you can become.