I just saw the movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor – and it is the best movie you haven’t seen. The film is a documentary, which explores the life of Fred Rogers, and his iconic children’s television show on PBS Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. The film is the the embodiment of Martin Luther King Jr. famous words that, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that; only love can do that.” A simple, but powerful message.
Roger’s simply cared about people. And his mission was a simple one. He believed that children needed to be treated with respect, told that they were individuals, and reminded that they are loved. Roger’s as man, and his philosophy, is a call back to a simpler time. A time of community. A time when neighborhoods themselves were institutions fundamental in shaping culture, identity, and beliefs. It is a reminder of what was, and what can be again.
The film really resonates. In the current world where we don’t know whom to trust (especially in mass media), we are reminded how we could always trust Mr. Rogers. As the world seems to grow darker by the day, as divisiveness, discontent, and destruction seem to engulf the planet; the kind words of Fred Rogers are exactly what we need restore our hope in humanity. This world isn’t for the faint of heart; we know that, but we are reminded it has always been that way. When Mr. Rogers first started producing his show for children, he understood this reality all too well. When Americans were grappling with horrific events like the War in Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, and the Assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the world seemed darker than ever before. But that did not deter him for trying to spread his message of tolerance and love. It did not deter him from honestly discussing the pains of reality with children and teaching them how to responsibly survive them. In fact, confronting this very darkness seemed like one of the things which motivated Rogers, and inspired him to create this show.
While a portion of the world blames Mr. Rogers for creating the millennial generation, we must also remember that in his nearly 40 years on television he spoke to a great number of children – many before those accursed ‘millennials’. I personally can’t see how his mission could have hurt society in anyway. I think the world would be a much better place, if we had a few more Mr. Rogers right about now.
What makes this film most important, is that it is a film about hope. We need a dose of optimism sprinkled into our day. When we see what Rogers did – trying to change the world one child at a time – it reminds us how the little things can have big impacts. We cannot help but think that, “surely, there are more Mr. Rogers living among us?” The film gives us a glimpse into Roger’s own doubt and insecurity. If at times he questioned the “effectiveness” of his own mission on earth, then maybe the same doubt we experience chasing our own dreams, is a sign that we are closer to achieving them than we realize. Maybe you are the next Mr. Rogers, you just don’t realize it yet.
Go see this film. Not only is it a necessary does of hope and optimism, but it feels like a strong hug from an old friend. You won’t be disappointed.