Mr. Rodgers will always hold an extraordinarily important place in my life. Growing up without a father figure, I could always count on seeing Mr Rodgers’ caring face on my screen. Explaining to me how truly special that I am. Explaining the importance of understanding my feelings and dealing with them in a healthy way. So when I saw that there was a documentary on the very man I looked up to throughout my childhood, I was immediately first in line to buy my ticket opening night.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a beautifully honest look at a man that so many of us looked up to as a child. I came to understand that Mr Rodgers not only took passion in what he was doing, but he truly loved children with every fiber of his being. As a child, Fred Rogers was bullied and made it a life mission to ensure children never felt that way again. Ensuing was an incredible portrayal of his life and accomplishments.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever been as emotionally moved as I have with this Fred Rodgers documentary. This was a man that I emotionally connected with over a screen, which surprisingly didn’t happen very often for me. This was a man that helped me to understand concepts that were maybe beyond my comprehension and made those same concepts accessible. Mr. Rodgers never believed in trying to ‘dumb things down’ for children to understand, rather he wanted to find new ways to explain them so that children were able to understand. I very vividly remember experiencing the events of 9/11 as a child and being terrified. I lived 10 minutes from the Pentagon and could hear the explosion. I remember teachers pulling out gas masks and being pulled out of school. I was completely and utterly terrified. But then I remember seeing Mr. Rodgers on the TV trying to make sense of the madness just for the sake of the children and I felt an inkling better.
However this documentary did show us that Fred Rogers was human and held some of the same problematic ideologies of the time. His co-star, Francois Clemmons was forced to live a lie. Existing as not only a black man, but a gay black man was one filled with emotional turmoil. Fred asked Francois not to come out of the closet as it would damage the reputation of the show. One of the most moving aspects of this film was when Francois Clemmons describes the exact moment he knew Fred had finally come to accept his homosexuality and love him regardless.
Watching this intimate, behind the scenes look of a man that has been consistently a part of my life since childhood was both heart wrenching and heartwarming. I also feel comfortable in the fact that I would love for my children to watch Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood.