I was beginning to think I’d never get to see this amazing documentary about the late Fred Rogers. First, I didn’t think it was showing anywhere close to where I lived. And then, when I did find it, things kept coming up to prevent me from going. But finally I was able to go and I’m so glad I did. Won’t You Be My Neighbor loosely tells the story of Fred Rogers and how he created Mister Roger’s Neighborhood (1968-2001).
While billed as a documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? doesn’t feel like one in the traditional sense. There’s no overarching narrative where a voice intones “In 1968 this happened and in 1969 that happened…” Instead, the story is related via many clips of Fred Rogers and is supplemented by many people who worked with him and lived with him, including his widow and his two sons.
Many of these clips will be familiar if you’ve ever searched for Fred Rogers on YouTube. For instance, they show the clip of Mister Rogers speaking before Congress, a video that makes the rounds on social media about once a month. There’s also the special video he made after 9/11, that reappears on Facebook every once in a while. What’s really fascinating is in-between these clips are all the stories about the show: how it tackled pretty adult issues for a children’s show. For instance, in June of 1968 (shortly after RFK’s assassination) there was a show where Daniel Tiger asks Lady Aberlin (Betty Aberlin) “What does assassination mean?” This was interspersed with footage from the night of the assassination. Part of what made Mister Rogers so extraordinary was his understanding of what children really needed, as one person explains, he never forgot what it was like to be a child.
I told myself going in that I wouldn’t cry but…towards the end of the story, I couldn’t help myself. See, towards the end, the story shifts to the present day and there are hints about the current situation and what Fred might have said were he still here. And as they kept sharing his message of love and compassion and just helping others, the tears came and I could not stop them. In this messed up world, we need Mister Roger’s message, now more than ever.
If you need a break, however briefly, from the madness, go see Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. It’s only around 90 minutes, but it’s a really fascinating look back at an extraordinary man.
What did you think of this documentary? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!
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