Movie review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Just before my wife and I saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor? at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, I read Ken Levine’s review.

It begins: “Full disclosure: I was not a fan of MR. ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD when it aired. My kids watched it, but I found it oddly creepy.” Next paragraph: “I am now one of those people recommending WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?”

That’s the point: you don’t have to be a fan of Fred Rogers’ long-running children’s program on PBS to appreciate the wonderful individual he was who did appeal to very many kids. Adults didn’t get him because he generally wasn’t talking to them.

Although he pretty much single-handedly secured funding for Public Broadcasting in 1970 through his direct plea to a Congressional committee chair.

The thing about his show was not designed to entertain the parents but to create that one-on-one relationship between the host and every child. It was because he understood child psychology and remembered some of the more painful aspects of his own childhood. Someone suggested that what Fred did was to take the formula of every other idea in children’s programming and do the opposite.

Fred was trained as a Presbyterian minister and was a lifelong Republican, back in the day when there were moderate Republicans such as Governor William Scranton in his native Pennsylvania. But he addressed big issues, such as race relations and violence, while not being preachy, just genuinely good and kind.

I really related to Mr. Rogers’ use of his puppets. I know that the use of inanimate objects can sometimes express ideas and feelings more easily than one can do directly.

The movie touched on some reportage that suggested that suggested that millennials are whiny because Fred Rogers told them they were special. I thought it was nonsense at the time, and the film only reinforced my view.

The Mr. Rogers message was/is that we ALL are special, worthy of being loved. In doing so, he taught them/us we need to be thoughtful and considerate to others. That seems to be an effective representation of what ministry should be.

My wife and I thought the same thing, separately: when African American performer Francois Clemons shared a wading pool with Fred Rogers for the second time in the film, it felt like the narrative of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. I can’t explain why.

Whether or nor you liked MR. ROGERS NEIGHBORHOOD, or even heard of it, you should watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor, directed by Morgan Neville, who also also directed that great documentary about backup singers, 20 Feet from Stardom.

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