On what would have been Fred Rogers’s 90th birthday, Focus Features has released the first full trailer for the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The documentary chronicles how the unlikely star became a household name and most beloved children’s show host through his groundbreaking children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Directed by documentarian Morgan Neville, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? first debuted at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews.
The documentary gives us a glimpse at how Rogers himself was the driving force behind shaping the show that ran on PBS for an amazing 31 seasons, with the last episodes airing in 2001. Rogers died from stomach cancer in 2003, but the impact he made on television is still being felt and is celebrated in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The movie features interviews with various crew and cast members from the show who exalt Rogers for being the reason the show tackled so many subjects others felt far too taboo for a children’s show.
In the trailer that shows many behind the scenes workings, show producer Margy Whitmer commented that the show technically shouldn’t have worked, but because of Rogers, it did. “If you take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite, you have Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Low production values, simple set, an unlikely star,” she mused, “yet it worked!” It shows how Rogers never shied away from controversial subjects, spending a week explaining death after the assassination of RFK, and confronting racial bias and racism by adding Francois Clemmons as Officer Clemmons to his cast of characters. Clemmons would be the first African American in a recurring role on a children’s television program. “He was radical,” fellow cast member Elizabeth Seamans, who played Mrs. McFeely on the show, marvels in the trailer. “I know everyone says this, but he was radical.”
While radical may or may not be a word we’ve used to describe Fred Rogers and his Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the past, this documentary certainly seems to prove the legacy he’s left behind. According to the official synopsis, Rogers was more than he appeared. “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.”
It certainly seems that with today’s current political climate and social media obsessed world, viewers are eager for a few more beautiful days in the neighborhood. While there has been some critiques of the documentary for not delving further into Rogers personally, the initial reaction seems to be one of a sweet nostalgia and a simple desire for more characters on television like Rogers. Countless comments have people admitting that they shed more than a few tears watching Rogers and his legacy of fairness and love. “Love,” Rogers says, “is at the root of everything – all learning, all parenting, all relationships, love. Or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.”
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? arrives in select U.S. theaters this year on June 8.
Source: Focus Features
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