‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ film review
By Jerrison Oracion, Senior Columnist
Fifty years ago, there was a show unlike the cartoons of that era and that would set the standard for children’s TV. That show was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, where Fred Rogers’ calm voice allowed him to explain very difficult topics in ways that a child could understand. He is an American treasure—and another American treasure, Tom Hanks, will play him in an upcoming 2019 biopic, You Are My Friend. For now, the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? shows what happened during the filming of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and explores things that we may not have known about Rogers.
Rogers was like your TV best friend. At the beginning of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, after the theme song, he always asked the audience, “Please won’t you be my neighbour?” I first watched the show when it was still on in the 1990s on PBS and VHS tapes, and I enjoyed seeing him explain how things are made and encourages watchers to try new things.
Before the show began in the ’60s, Rogers was a pastor in a church until he watched television for the first time, and his dislike for the type of content he saw on TV led to him making the show. His monologues in the show are almost like sermons.
The first week of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood stands out because it contains a storyline in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe referencing the Vietnam War, which was happening during that time. The show’s approach to current events showed them in a friendly way without giving specific details. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood also did an episode about Robert Kennedy’s assassination and an episode about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor includes interviews with a lot of people who knew Rogers, including his wife, Joanne, their two children, and some of the people who were involved in the show. One of these people is François Clemmons, a gay man whom Rogers supported, although Roger suggested he keep his sexuality private while appearing on the show. The documentary discussed the debate about whether Rogers liked men and Clemmons confirmed that he was straight.
Rogers was also active in advocating for PBS and educational programming. When PBS was about to get budget cuts in 1969, he gave a testimony in front of a US senator about public broadcasting being important to him, saving PBS for future generations, including today’s.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood came back in a way recently with the children’s show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, featuring many characters from the original show, and the character Daniel Tiger in both shows was inspired by Rogers’s childhood.
Fred Rogers had a personality as warm as the characteristic sweaters that he wore and there is nothing that compares today. Maybe if the entire original series went up on Netflix, it could help to preserve his legacy.