June 5, 2020

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Fred Rogers Doc on HBO

I watched a church service on Easter morning, cooked some festive dishes and had two virtual parties with friends and family in the afternoon. As evening approached, I tried to think of something to watch in keeping with the Easter spirit. That ruled out murder dramas, Covid-10 news and political pundits.

Suddenly, a recommendation from last Easter popped into my head. A friend had raved about the 2018 American documentary currently streaming on HBO, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I had never watched Mr. Rogers when his show was on PBS, mistakenly thinking it was strictly for kiddies. The documentary points out social consciousness always played a part in his programming.

It was with wonder I watched him share bare feet in a kiddie pool with his African-American postman, a not so subtle counterbalance to the fights over whites and blacks using the same public swimming pools. Through fairy tale stories and realistic conversations between puppets and humans, Fred Rogers tackled difficult issues of the day.

One of the most moving segments of the doc is when Rogers interviews a disabled boy in a wheel chair. There is no pity on either side of the conversation, just a positive exchange of ideas between two individuals.

First and foremost was Mr. Rogers’ reverence for the feelings and education of children. He views television as a medium to create more than just cheap entertainment for kids. (On a personal note, my husband interviewed someone from the cast and was given a ticket to see Mr. Rogers live at the Auditorium in Chicago. He related how the venue was jam-packed with kids shouting and laughing until Mr. Rogers appeared on stage. A dead hush occurred before one little voice called out in awe, “Rogers,” only to be joined by hundreds of devoted fans yelling his name. Sadly, I never got to see the man in person, but I do recall this vivid description from my spouse.)

As an ordained Presbyterian minister, Rogers chose to wear a sweater and comfortable shoes instead of a white collar but his spirituality is apparent in his songs, his speech and his very demeanor. The documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, directed by Morgan Neville, captures the essence of Mr. Rogers. Watch it with people you love.

P.S. I may yet watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the 2019 movie starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, but the the footage of the real man is gonna be hard to beat.

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