Red Vine’s Take
While perusing CNN, I saw an opinion article called “What America needs now is Mr. Rogers” and after watching the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” at the True/False Film Festival, I can say quite easily that the opinion article’s title is not at all hyperbolic but rather a severe understatement. America doesn’t just need Mr. Rogers, the world needs Mr. Rogers. And we don’t just need him now. We needed him two years ago. We needed him five years ago.
This documentary is definitely supposed to make people feel good about the life of Mr. Roger, but it stops very short of making him look like a saint. In fact, the documentary goes out of its way to show you that Mr. Rogers was very much a real person with a real heart. During the Q&A with the director after our screening, he explained that they didn’t want to portray Fred Rogers as a saint-like person because then people would feel absolved from carrying on Fred Rogers’s legacy because they would see him as above them and not one of them. Basically, the viewer shouldn’t feel like Mr. Rogers’ moral standard is impossibly high. Mr. Rogers was a very religious man, but his own philosophy about children when well beyond the confines of Christianity. Anyone can identify with his message of love toward the rest of the world.
As a terribly nostalgic person, any excuse I have to watch, read, reflect on, or talk about things from my childhood is considered time well spent. Having said that, it made perfect sense to me to include “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” in our viewing line-up at the 2018 True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri. While it was safe to assume that the documentary would prove heartfelt, I was not fully prepared for the (though respectively subtle: see connections drawn between Trump and King Friday XIII) socio-political commentary imbued throughout the film.
The film touches on the man, Fred Rogers. On his past, his passions, and – most importantly – his presence in the social consciousness. It touches on his early desires to be a minister and how he managed to carry that sense of service and devotion to his vocation – though – he might deem it more of a calling than a career.
The film touches on his personal and professional struggles. How he managed to overcome the pressures of even the US Senate in his passionate plea to keep PBS publicly funded. How he a mere mortal – though, at times, more of a myth – also struggled with insecurities and personal failures.
The film touches on his legacy. And how we need people to remind children – and adults alike – that it is okay to feel. To feel scared. To feel angry. To feel confused. And how important it is not be reactive in the wake of such feelings; to build connections rather than build walls.
This documentary could not have come at a more important time in human history. A time where our social consciousness is constantly bombarded by divisive rhetoric. Mister Rogers needs to exist, must exist, in our continued and shared experience. And while I think it too much responsibility for one man to carry the weight of such a burden, Mister Rogers – as this documentary serves to celebrate and laud and praise – does so, somehow, with a smile on his face.
Side note: You may be careful who you choose to watch this movie with if only because you will look a hot crying mess within the first five minutes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.