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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Jun. 19, 2018 3 years ago

'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' reminds audiences to be kind to one another

During a time of division, Mr. Rodgers' lessons about kindness reminds us that love and respect for one another can prevail.

Oscar winning director Morgan Neville's documentary, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" is one of the most important films ever made. For 33 years, Mr. Fred Rogers taught us that the power of kindness can make a world of difference. 

In 1968, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" debuted nationwide on TV. It was incredibly groundbreaking and deeply profound. Mr. Rogers developed a unique way of speaking to children by telling the unadulterated truth in a caring and simplistic way. His focus was to impress upon children that they are liked just the way they are. And that the greatest evil is people trying to make you feel less than you are. The kids ate it up.

With the aid of puppets, sidekicks and comfy sweaters, he addressed many difficulties in the world in an honest and open manner. Topics such as war, divorce, death and assassinations were explored with children in attendance and footage of their comprehending such information. The look on their faces is indescribable. They get it.


But there was more fun going on with subtle lessons to be gained rather than gloomy chats. One particularly moving segment had Mr. Rogers interacting with a live gorilla. As the two embraced, the gorilla mimicked Mr. Rogers' hand signals professing his love to convey his love back at him. Try holding back a smile or tears as you witness this beautiful and poignant exchange. Impossible.

Mr. Rogers was a brilliant philosopher and politically motivated genius. Parallels of what was happening in the real world were drawn with simple skits. An evil King Friday the 13th, who wants to build a wall to keep people apart in his fictitious neighborhood and is "down with change," is eerily prophetic. And when he invites the local policeman to share his little rubber pool to cool their feet, it doesn't go unnoticed that he's black. It was a time when public pools were segregated. 

Courtesy image

Neville ("20 Feet From Stardom") employs some disturbing archival footage which captures images of people bashing gays, whites throwing bleach on blacks in swimming pools and the shooting of Robert Kennedy. In contrast, he interviews those who worked with Mr. Rogers and loved him. But for the most part, he graciously captures the concept that Mr. Rogers was trying to put forth..."That you are just fine the way you are."

Mr. Rogers taught all of us that love is at the root of everything, or the the lack of it. In a time when we have a leader whose goal is to divide and conquer, Mr. Rogers reminds us that love and respect for one another can prevail. Be kind.

Note: Catch Mrs Joanne Rogers on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" (aired 6/12/18 on NBC). It's absolutely delightful.

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