Folks of a certain age undoubtedly hold a soft spot for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the long-running children’s program which was broadcast on PBS from 1968 until 2001. Fred Rogers, the gentle-voiced, cardigan-clad host of the educational series, spoke — and sometimes sang — directly to America’s children and taught them to be kind, tolerant, and loving toward all living things. (We’ll pause a moment while you consider those qualities which are sorely missing from today’s culture.) Now a new documentary titled Won’t You Be My Neighbor will chronicle Fred Rogers’ subversive perspective that helped shape the landmark series.
Topics on the show included death, divorce, and racism. For instance, during the tumultuous civil rights era of the late 1960s Rogers educated his audience against segregation in the most subtle way possible. François Clemmons, an entertainer who is black and frequently appeared on the series as Officer Clemmons, recalls that Rogers offered his opinion on the issue by simply sitting next to him while the two soaked their feet in a kiddie pool. “My being on the program was a statement for Fred,” Clemmons recalls.
The documentary is filled with such moments. In a voiceover during the trailer, Rogers instructs, “The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.” That’s a message that’s unfortunately just as subversive today as it was a half century ago.
The doc will hit theaters June 8. A narrative film about Rogers is scheduled to begin filming later this year and will star another well-regarded good guy, Tom Hanks.
Check out the trailer for the documentary below and scroll down further for video of some of the highlights of Rogers’ life and career.