This week, a new documentary feature entitled Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, directed by Morgan Neville of 20 Feet from Stardom fame, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Its name, of course, refers to the lyric sung in the theme song of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and it documents the life of the beloved Fred Rogers and his work on the children’s program.
As many will remember, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ran from 1963 until 2008 when syndicated episodes began to be removed from air. The show featured Fred Rogers iconically removing his shoes and donning a sweater for every episode. In the show, he would speak with puppets, tell stories, and address the audience and viewers directly.
According to reports, the documentary takes a great deal of time to focus on how Mister Rogers was never afraid to address difficult topics with the show’s young audience. With various episodes addressing racism, divorce, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, and the Challenger explosion in 1986, it’s clear that Mr. Rogers wanted an open dialogue with children.
“Children have very deep feelings, just as parents do,” Mister Rogers said, proving how he would never talk down to kids. “I didn’t feel I needed to put on a funny hat.”
While nearly everyone who’s seen the show loves the host, the documentary briefly touches on Fred’s private family life and how his fame was difficult for his children.
In Indie Wire‘s review of the documentary, Fred’s grown son recalls how his father would often speak in the voice of one of his puppets, Lady Elaine, around the house.
“It was a little tough,” his son said, “having the second Christ as my dad.”
James and John Rogers reportedly responded differently to their dad’s success, though they say their dad loved them the same. In 1978, he recognized that James (who also goes by Jamie) struggled growing into adulthood, and remarked, “It’s been painful, and it’s rough on Jamie, but if we don’t allow him to go off and have this time for himself, he’ll never come back to the nest.”
Clearly, the men shared a special relationship, and only more will be revealed once Won’t You Be My Neighbor? hits movie theaters later this summer.
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