“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is the new documentary focusing on beloved PBS children’s show icon, Fred Rogers, and is being heralded by critics as timeless and timely in our current cultural climate.
Directed by Morgan Neville, the movie’s release on June 8, 2018 coincides with the 15th anniversary of Rogers’ famed TV show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, which debuted nationally on PBS in 1968.
The show would go on to include over 1,765 episodes until 2001. Fred Rogers later died of cancer at age 74 in 2003.
Rogers’ life and career are examined in the new documentary: a political conservative and ordained minister, Rogers quit the seminary to deliver his visionary message of good, clean values on children’s television.
Although generations of viewers would rightfully see him as exceedingly gentle, kind, and benevolent, Rogers was also adamant about telling it like it is to children, for their own benefit.
Indeed, in one clip from a June 7, 1968, primetime special, Rogers spoke directly to kids about their feelings and fears in the wake of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.
During the years of segregation at schools and public places when black families were bullied out of public swimming pools, Rogers invited his onscreen neighborhood cop, played by gay African-American François Clemmons, to share a footbath on camera.
The documentary also sheds some light on Rogers’ few detractors, such as pundits from a “Fox & Friends” segment blaming Rogers’ approach for inciting feelings of entitlement among the current generation of millennials.
Overall, film critics have noted that the Mr. Rogers we saw on television for decades was no different than the one in real life, as seen in this documentary: a genuinely kind soul who, in his own words, wanted to “make goodness attractive.”
The film has received universal acclaim, scoring a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics and audiences alike are warming up to the tale of this gentle icon, perhaps as a respite and beacon to strive for in our turbulent times.
In fact, there is more of Fred Rogers to come—TriStar Pictures announced earlier this year that Tom Hanks will portray Rogers in an upcoming feature film about him.