Won't You Be My Neighbor
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Morgan Neville, Director
An exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host Fred Rogers.
With the new school year approaching, I started to think about children and their influences. The violent video games, children glued to their iPads and smartphones, playing fast-paced games of competition, most of which involve killing or capturing others. Oh, how I wish Mr. Rogers was alive to create an app for our children that would have a core aspect of kindness and tolerance.
The recent film I saw at Coligny Theater (Coligny Plaza, Hilton Head) about the children’s TV icon Fred Rogers is a thorough documentary/biography, which I highly recommend no matter your age. Since I am originally from the Pittsburgh area, I was aware of Mr. Rogers early on. Both my children watched him intently. His kind and quiet manner seemed to draw children close to him, to listen to him. Won’t You Be My Neighbor highlights how Rogers realized early in his career that the movement in children’s entertainment—with pies being thrown in faces and slipping on banana peels—was far from a message of kindness and tolerance toward one another. Rogers went in a totally different direction, using kindness and patience as his guide, and it worked.
Rogers was a youth advocate who attended seminary before becoming a TV evangelist. A political conservative, Rogers didn’t like rocking the boat, yet he went before senate hearings to ask for reinstatement of a 20 million dollar cut to public television and won. He managed to carve out a place on television, producing more than 1,700 episodes of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood from 1968-2001. He wanted a kid-friendly show that told it like it is. Whether the topic was death of a pet or the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Rogers felt patience and understanding could go a long way toward helping his young audience understand tricky issues.
David Brooks from the New York Times said it well: “Often people are moved to tears by sadness, but occasionally people are moved to tears by goodness. That’s what happens to the audiences of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the new documentary about Fred Rogers.”
“There’s nothing obviously moving here, and yet the audience is moved—sniffling, wiping the moisture from their cheeks. The power is in Rogers’s radical kindness at a time when public kindness is scarce. It’s as if the pressure of living in a time such as ours gets released in the theater as we’re reminded that, oh yes, that’s how people can be.”
Moral elevation gains strength when it is scarce.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? performs the invaluable service of letting us witness the man in action with those who meant the most to him—children. In these troubled times, it’s a good feeling to see a funny, touching, and vital documentary that is both timely and timeless.
References: www.movieinsider.com, www.imbd.com, www.pronto.com.