'Won't You Be My Neighbor' Review | CIFF 42

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“You don’t have to be sensational just to be loved,” said Fred Rogers. In a world that seems dark, here’s a film to remind us that we can find positivity, beauty, tolerance, in all that we do and that’s what Fred Roger tried to emphasised when he created 'Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.'

'Won’t You Be My Neighbor?' takes us through how minister Fred Rogers decided he wanted a career where he would be able to have a positive influence on children. A show that would be completely different than all the children programs that were on the air, where there wasn’t any violence, name-calling, and lousy interaction and somehow that didn’t translate well for outlets he would be pitching the show. 'Mr. Rogers Neighborhood' was a quiet show that would try and teach kids to be caring towards one another, how unique each child is no matter what they were going through and how to overcome adversity. 

Many outlets didn’t expect the show to be received well, but Rogers believed in the show and wanted a space that brought positivity to children’s lives every day and reminds them they were loved. A pivotal scene was when Rogers invited a Black officer to share the kiddie pool with him and just for the two to talk like friends would. After years of Blacks being considered  “dirty” and unable to share pools or common spaces with whites. The actor who played the cop shared how important that scene was for him and to portray it on his show. 

But with success comes criticism. During Rogers’ funeral conservatives protested his ceremony by chanting how he created a generation of crybabies, he was gay, and merely showing pure hatred, the opposite of what Rogers believed in. 

He fought to keep PBS on air when the government was trying to shut down funding for the station. His speech helped convince Sen. John O. Pastore, how vital PBS is for the community. 

The film moves at a great pace that illustrates the hurdles Rogers faced while creating the show and how he dealt with the obstacles that he had the overcome while the show was on the air, from the criticism of critics, the parodies comedians portrayed of him and the rumors about his personal life. With each of those moments, he overcame them graciously. 

One scene showed the king puppet and how it wanted to build a wall to keep people from his kingdom. Sound familiar? Rogers was able to portray how to bring differences together and understand one another. 

We need Fred Rogers’ compassion and heart more than ever. Kids are missing the simplicity of the show’s heart and understanding what love is. They are consumed by social media, violence, and the media. 

GRADE: A 

'Won't You Be My Neighbor' premiered at the 2018 Cleveland International Film Festival. It opens in theaters on June 8.