Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a beautiful documentary about Fred Rogers, from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, who had a completely new vision for children’s television. Fred Rogers was disgusted with fact that commercial television’s children’s shows were violent or stupid and treated kids as idiots. Mister Rogers wanted a show that would actually communicate with children and talk to them about important issues in their lives.
Despite having no training in T.V. Fred Rogers was able to get a show on Pittsburgh Public Television. It was low budget, slow moving and kids loved it. The station did not realize how popular it was until one day they ran a promotion allowing kids and parents to come in and meet Fred Rogers personally. Lines of kids and parents stretched down the block like it was a Hollywood premier. Mister Rogers became the first Public Television star.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor has some amazing footage of Fred Rogers. In 1969, President Nixon wanted to get rid of all government funding to Public Television and instead use the money for the Vietnam War. Senator John Pastore held public hearings about the cut, which Senator Pastore was very much in favor of. Won’t You Be My Neighbor shows Fred Rogers appearing before a very hostile, rude and confrontational Senate panel. Instead of responding with anger, Mister Rogers calmly discusses the importance of treating children with love and respect, and Mister Rogers even reads the words of one of the songs he sings on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers’ words deeply move Senator Pastore who says, “that was beautiful” and the Senator recommends granting $20 Million to Public television.
Despite its appearance, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a very structured show and actors had to stick strictly to the script. Fred Rogers had very specific ideas he wanted to teach to children. Most importantly he wanted to make sure kids understood the difference between fantasy and reality. Part of each show, the Magic Trolley would travel into the Land Of Make Believe. That fantasy world was full of puppets and other special characters, but Mister Rogers himself never appeared in the Land Of Make Believe. Fred Rogers was very upset about reports of kids jumping out of windows thinking they could fly like Superman. He wanted to use Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to teach kids about what is real and what is not.
Mister Rogers also spoke directly on the show to children about very difficult subjects. After the Robert Kennedy assassination, Mister Rogers Neighborhood discussed death. There were shows about divorce and acceptance of other people. Mister Rogers was retired when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Fred Rogers came out of retirement and did a special show to help sooth the fears of children throughout the country.
There is really no one on the air like Fred Rogers today. As the country and the World become more polarized, his message of love and understanding can easily get lost amid the shouting and hatred. Fred Rogers died on February 27, 2003. He is survived by his wife and children. At his memorial service protestors showed up across the street carrying signs that read “God Hates Fags”. One of the mourners walked across the street and asked if they were claiming Fred Rogers was gay. (He was not.) The protestor replied that they did not think Mister Rogers was gay, but that they hated him because he tolerated gays.
Fred Rogers was a profoundly religious man whose view of Christianity was diametrically opposed to that of the protestors. Fred Rogers believed in a God of love and acceptance. Mister Rogers believed that the good people of the World can persevere and win against hatred, violence and stupidity. Fred Rogers believed that the real message of God is and has always been a message of Love.
- We give Won’t You Be My Neighbor our highest rating of 5 Stars *****
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