Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
DirMorgan Neville Length 95 mins Cert 12A
For Gen-X Americans, children’s TV star Fred Rogers was more than just a genial middle-aged man in a cardigan with a train set. Even the overused word icon doesn’t come close to capturing his centrality to their childhoods.
As the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, one of the PBS network’s keystone programmes for kids from the late 60s onwards, he was for many the first star they would have been aware of, a friend who spoke straight to them in a gentle, oddly stilted, faintly southern drawl. As they grew older, Mr Rogers might come to be someone they mocked or imagined had a dark secret not fit for younger viewers. This documentary by Morgan Neville reveals that he really was just what he seemed to be at first innocent sight: a kind-hearted, square but saintly man who genuinely loved and understood children.
Neighbor constructs an elegant tribute to its subject through a collage of archive footage and original interviews. Testimony from those who knew and loved the late Rogers reveal a compelling backstory of a shy, insecure man. For all his hokey trappings and Republican sympathies, Rogers was a revolutionary in his way, quietly promulgating messages of tolerance and self-acceptance.