Won’t You Be My Neighbor? rated PG-13
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a heart-warming and well-made documentary about the ministry of Fred McFeely Rogers. Ministry? Indeed. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh, but chose to minister not within the church, but through his long-running PBS program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Our vocations are serving God and also serving other people. The purpose of vocation is to love and serve our neighbor. Wearing his trademark cardigan sweater and tennis shoes, Rogers was an excellent example of integrating his faith with his work through his vocation.
The film is directed by Oscar winner Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet From Stardom) and was released a few months after the 50th anniversary of the debut of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Although I never saw an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I found this to be one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, and one that families with children ten and above could watch together and appreciate.
Rogers, who died in 2003, talked and sang to children, teaching them important lessons. What surprised me was that he addressed important and timely issues of the day on his program such as the Vietnam war, the assassination of RFK, divorce and discrimination. Francois Clemmons (Officer Clemmons on the program) talks about how Rogers addressed his race and homosexuality. The film also shows Rogers coming out of retirement (the show ended in 2001) to film a Public Service message after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The film includes helpful and interesting interviews with Rogers’ widow Joanne, his two sons, co-stars including Betty Aberlin, Joe Negri, Betty Seamans, Francois Clemmons, producer Margaret Whitmer and guest Yo Yo Ma. Footage from the program shows Lady Aberlin and Daniel Tiger. We are told that Daniel most modeled the personality of Rogers.
The film is rated PG-13 for some adult language, plus a funny photo of a crew member’s back end.
Themes included children, love, respect, kindness, diversity, and that you are loved just as you are.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is just the type of film we need today in our deeply divided country. Rogers is portrayed as a man who lived out his faith, showing respect for all, even those he disagreed with. We are often disappointed when our heroes are tainted when stories about their private lives become public. In this instance, it appears that Fred Rogers was the real deal. From the interviews with his sons it appears that the Rogers we saw on the program was just how he was in real life.
In his work with children, he demonstrated well what Jesus taught about loving our neighbor in The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 25-37. We can all learn a lot from his example. Highly recommended!