We are big Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood fans and it’s not just because my kids actually love the show and it helps teach them about emotions. Anything that’s Mr. Rogers oriented has a special place in my heart because my late mother-in-law loved Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. When my husband was growing up their family had these TV Tickets; they did chores and they earned a TV Ticket for a certain length of time. When it came to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood no TV Tickets were needed, the kids could always watch that show. I heard about the new documentary from Focus Features WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? about a month ago and instantly I was interested.
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? A Documentary about Mr. Rogers
Here in the Twin Cities you can see WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR on June 15th, if you aren’t local to Minneapolis check your local listings to see where you can screen the film. Here’s a brief synopsis about the film,
For over thirty years, Fred Rogers, an unassuming minister, puppeteer, writer and producer was beamed daily into homes across America. In his beloved television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred and his cast of puppets and friends spoke directly to young children about some of life’s weightiest issues, in a simple, direct fashion. There hadn’t been anything like Mr. Rogers on television before and there hasn’t been since.
Though he may be best known today as a soft-spoken, cardigan-wearing children’s television host, in reality, Fred Rogers’ career represents a sustained attempt to present a coherent, beneficent view about how we should best speak to children about important matters and how television could be used as a positive force in our society.
In Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom) looks back on the legacy of Fred Rogers, focusing on his radically kind ideas. While the nation changed around him, Fred Rogers stood firm in his beliefs about the importance of protecting childhood. Neville pays tribute to this legacy with the latest in his series of highly engaging, moving documentary portraits of essential American artists.
Focus Features presents Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a Tremolo Production in association with Impact Partners and PBS / Independent Lens, a film by Morgan Neville, edited by Jeff Malmberg and Aaron Wickenden, ACE, cinematographer Graham Willoughby, co-executive producers Nion McEvoy, Leslie Berriman, Jenny Raskin, executive producers David J. Cornfield and Linda A. Cornfield, David Stone and David Boies III, Rick Rosenthal & Nancy Stephens, John Boccardo & Derek Esplin, Andrea van Beuren, Jenifer Westphal, Dan Cogan, Geralyn Dreyfous and Regina Scully, produced by Morgan Neville, Caryn Capotosto, and Nicholas Ma, and directed by Morgan Neville.
What made Fred Rogers so radical when he was alive?
Fred Rogers, yes, he’s Mister Rogers, was radical for his time because he was willing to show kindness to everyone in his show. He taught children not only educational, book smart things, like how crayons are made (which is one of my vivid memories of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) but he also did a lot with emotional well being and real life. He had an episode dedicated to divorce, talking through the emotions, explaining why it happens and then ultimately helping give kids the tools to be able to talk about how they were feeling. When Mister Rogers’ aired it was 1968 and America was in turmoil. Here’s what was happening in 1968, the most history changing year in America:
- Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April of that year
- America was still at war in Vietnam and North Vietnam launched the Tet Offensive again South Vietnam and America
- Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated
- The first interracial kiss on TV happened (Star Trek)
- U.S. athletes take a stand at the Summer Olympics – You’ve certainly seen the picture of two black athletes with raised their fist, each wearing a black glove, on the medal podium. The athletes staged a silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the United States
Then you have one man, who’s willing to push the societal boundaries and talk about loving your neighbor and being kind to each other. Fred Rogers was radical and pushed against society’s inhuman norms. Like this episode when Mister Rogers and Office Clemmons soak their feet in a kiddie pool. At the time this was filmed and aired, Jim Crow, segregation laws were still very present in the southern states of America. Fred Rogers’ act of sharing a swimming pool with Officer Clemmons and, here’s the key point, he washed Officer Clemmons’ feet, challenged Jim Crow laws and also showed children, the next generation, that segregation was wrong and unnecessary. It was a powerful statement.
A Note from the Director Morgan Neville
When I met Joanne Rogers, I told her I wanted to make a film not about Fred Rogers’ story but about his ideas. She smiled and said that sounded pretty good, because Fred had always said his own story was the most boring story of all time. I respectfully disagree.
I was born in 1967 and “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” went national in 1968, so I was part of the first generation of Mr. Rogers’ devotees. I remember loving the show, but like most toddler fans, my memories are warm but hazy. By the time I hit 2nd grade, I had moved on to baseball cards and movies.
Decades later, after one of my documentary subjects Yo-Yo Ma had been telling me stories about Fred Rogers, I began to think about Fred differently. One night I came across a video of Fred giving a commencement address. There was something in his tone and words that struck me: this is a grownup voice I just don’t hear anymore. He was talking about civility, about compassion, about grief and about the hard work of being human. He was talking to students, but it sounded like he was talking about the world today. I immediately felt I wanted to explore this further in a film.
Fred said his task was ”to make goodness attractive,” and he struggled with this mission throughout his life. It was clear that this was not a saintly calling, but the hard, everyday work of being a better person.
Ultimately, Fred felt people didn’t really understand the depth of his work. Simple and deep was the defining tone of the show, but making something simple and deep is anything but simple.
Fred Rogers was asking big questions: How do we care for each other? How do we respect ourselves? What kind of neighborhood should we create together?
There was no way to make this film without internalizing those messages from Fred Rogers. His ethos permeated every aspect of the production in the best possible way. Egos were checked. We took our time. There might have been hugs.
I can’t think of another film I would have rather made right now.
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? Opens in Minneapolis this Friday, June 15th!
Take the Good Neighbor Challenge!
To celebrate the legacy of Mister Rogers, we invite you to submit a story of a neighbor in your community making a positive difference! The winner will win a private hometown screening of Wont You Be My Neighbor? to share with all their neighbors!
Visit https://www.bemyneighborcontest.com/ now to submit the story of your great neighbor! Be sure to also share on social using #BeMyNeighbor.
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Bert Anderson is a blogger and social media manager mom of three living outside of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. She’s the author behind the blog First Time Mom, where she honestly chronicles the peaks and valleys of parenting. Even though she has more than one child, Bert maintains that whether you have one child or 19, there’s a first time for everything. She’s a lover of coffee, conversations, pop culture, healthy living and fitness.