Like many people, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS. So even though the movie theaters are offering a number of block buster action and comedy films fueled by big name stars, my son and I chose to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? this weekend – a documentary about the man who was Mister Rogers.
Fred Rogers was an ordained minister who found his calling in public television. He didn’t wear a white collar on his show, he wore a sweater. And he didn’t preach about God directly, he enlightened our youth about morals and values through example and simple lessons. Most importantly Mister Rogers instilled in his young viewers the notion that everyone of us is special.
Over the course of his career, Rogers wrote, produced, and starred in over 1,700 episodes of his landmark show.
A leader in child development, Rogers’ shows dealt with real issues faced by children, and the public in general. When Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, Rogers addressed it on a child’s level for his audience. When racism permeated our society and blacks were not allowed to swim in the same swimming pools as whites, Rogers addressed it on his show. When the Challenger space shuttle exploded on live television killing its crew, Rogers addressed it on his show.
There was no topic that Rogers could not distil down to a level that children could understand.
One thing that amazes in this intimate portrait of a truly good man, is that there were people who actually had the audacity to blame Rogers for problems in the world. The documentary showed news reports of misguided individuals blaming Rogers for the sense of entitlement some people felt simply because Rogers expressed that everyone was special. Sadly this is not the only time we have witnessed misguided people blaming others for their problems.
Another thing that surprises in the film is that homophobic people picketed Rogers’ funeral because he was tolerant of homosexuals. Rogers was not gay, nor did the protesters feel he was, they simply despised the man because he didn’t condemn homosexuals for living an alternative lifestyle.
In an era where the President of the United States brags about sexually assaulting women, where celebrities like Roseanne Barr make racist statements and think nothing of it, where congressional candidate Nathan Larson openly admits to being a pedophile, where retired NBA player Tim Hardaway has gone on record saying “I hate gay people”…it is a nice reminder that this world has produced people like Fred Rogers who are good through and through. And that is just what the film Won’t You Be My Neighbor? does.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a poignant look at a man who did good, who was good. It instills in us a hope that Rogers will not be alone in history, that others can and will do things to benefit the world and not add on to its mounting problems.
You don’t have to be a longtime viewer of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to enjoy Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. Even if you have never seen an episode, this documentary will still touch your soul. The movie is, like Rogers himself, a blessing.
Peace. Love. Trust.