Can somebody really be so selfless? The documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour? explores a remarkable figure I had previously heard nothing about.
Fred Rogers led a singular life. He was a puppeteer, minister, musician and educator. He was also a father, husband and neighbour. The gently-spoken, cardigan-wearing minister dominated children’s television in the United States. His show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, first went to air in 1968 and ran for 895 episodes till 2001. At its peak in 1985, 8% of all American households tuned into the program.
What made Rogers so different was that he preached kindness. He asked children and adults alike to love and to allow themselves to be loved. With television as his pulpit, he helped transform the very concept of childhood. He used puppets and play to explore the most complicated issues of the day – race, disability, equality and tragedy. He spoke directly to children and they responded by forging a lifelong bond with him – by the millions.
He didn’t resile from discussing current and complex issues in ways that would be meaningful to littlies. And he was respected … in fact loved by those with whom he worked. They talk about what he did and what he achieved with genuine, heartfelt warmth.
I appreciated the way Won’t You Be My Neighbour? also gave us insight into some of Roger’s negative aspects. We learned about the haters, and how his approach to gays changed over time.
Overall I was fascinated, intrigued and even moved to tears. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom) has crafted something special.
Director: Morgan Neville
Release Date: 13 September 2018 (limited)
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television