Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor

First, I have to get this off my chest…

Last term, one of my profs would always say something along the line of “it would be like being in an empty movie theater and some stranger comes and sits next to you.” Don’t ask me the context, but my response inside my head was always, ‘Well, today seats are generally assigned; however, I get your point.’

Let me tell you, it’s creepy, even with assigned seating. Especially if you are in a near empty theater and you know that person bought his ticket after you bought yours. Ugh, so creepy I can’t even begin to explain it. I got up and moved to the next seat over.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a documentary and, therefore, not a children’s movie. I feel like the promoters of the film really buried the PG-13 rating. I follow them on social media and didn’t learn of the rating until I went to look for showtimes yesterday. It’s a great documentary, but it isn’t necessarily a film for children of the viewing age for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

There is always a danger when creating a documentary about someone as iconic as Fred Rogers that you will convey only the saintly figure that we parents all think of him as, but this is not done. Rogers is not conveyed as a perfect, flawless individual, but as an uncommon man who had a great desire to help children. Which, maybe, is what made him so uncommon in the first place.

Fred Rogers was, as it is pointed out, a unique individual. He was a rare person and his kind no longer exists anywhere in the media. That’s too bad, because, as the documentary points out, he’s the type of person we need.

I always had the view that Rogers was this very confident individual because he did hard things that made a lot of people angry, like put his feet into a swimming pool with a black man during a time when whites refused to swim with blacks. He also dealt with the assassination of Bobby Kennedy right on his show, right after it happened. That took balls. People still won’t do that for kids. There are almost no shows that are willing to help the smallest of our children through the great horrors they are exposed to on the news.

It turns out that Rogers was not all that confident. Instead, his actions sprang from his convictions. That sounds much more common that it is. We think this is all it takes, but most people with convictions rarely are brave enough to act on them. They are usually content to just talk about them. That made Rogers extraordinary.

One surprising thing I did not know is that Rogers apparently single-handedly (maybe I’m over-estimating) saved the fledgling Public Television from the greedy claws of Richard Nixon who wanted that money to send more boys to die in Vietnam (because, you know, you can’t admit defeat until you’ve killed enough young soldiers).

I thought I had a great deal of respect for Mr. Rogers before I saw this documentary, but it turns out he was just another idol. Now, though, I have an immense respect for the man (yes, there’s a difference). He was human in a way most of us cannot admit we are, and he was not afraid to share that humanity with the weakest among us. His humility was great, and his compassion was greater. He really is the type of person we need today.

I highly recommend Won’t You Be My Neighbor, but you might want to watch and edit it before you show it to your kids. 🙂

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