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Film Review: “Won`t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018) ★★★★★


It was not long ago when we knew something about the moral depth of human dignity, respect, love and kindness. It was just recently when time looked optimistic and the future seemed bright before our hope vanished into thin air. Indeed, the time we live in right now is unkind, inhumane and heartbreaking. We not only have failed ourselves, we are almost left with no one to look up to for advice. Sad, isn’t it? As I and you may think about it, the saying by Fred Rogers comes to my mind, “how sad it is that we gave up on people who are just like us.” But did we? And if yes, then why?

Overthinking a bit, you may find it. But sometimes this type of overthinking brings us back to where we need to be – to realize that the planet we share is our common home. We’re not strangers to each other and should never be. And the place we share should be considered as a big joyful neighborhood where hatred, racism, disrespect and every other quality that does not fit into who we are cannot be tolerated. And I could not help not think about it after watching Morgan Neville’s absolutely adorable, heartwarming and such an important documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about one particular person whose first priority was the nurture of children, because he knew without great foundation no building can stand against the strongest earthquake –  and the children were just that.

Fred Rogers believed that what we hear or see on TV plays a part in who we become. And he even said, “I think people who produce and perform on programs for children should have as a prerequisite some sort of course to understand their audience. But we give millions of dollars to these people who are producing cartoons and they have no earthly idea of what they’re doing to a kid.” And as you watch the documentary, you hear about Mr. Roger’s reasons of why he had to get into TV and realize why he had to do what he was doing his entire life. “I got into television because I hated it so. And I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.” Ironically, his show “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” for children was widely famous and well received and loved by many, but a similar show he made later on for adults failed.

Through his programs, the unfamiliar viewer will learn about the peaceful co-existence and important messages Mr. Rogers tried to pass on to children through his programs. If there was a war, or for instance Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” would tackle that subject matter subtly to address the issues of the society to children in the most gentle way possible. More importantly, the tv host, as the story unfolds, shows how he tried to convey the message to children and adults about the importance of being who we are, being loved for who we are, and that there is no need to do anything sensational to be called special. Because everyone is special and will always be.

Funnily, it took me a while to write and rewrite the piece about Morgan Neville’s film, as it required certain dedication I felt I did not have. Perhaps the lack of necessary words or the right expression to come up with something that closely can describe how wonderful, inspiring, cheerful “Won’t You My Neighbor” were simply not there. And still aren’t. Because there is no better way to describe the indescribable. It must be seen, felt and experienced. There is an interesting and enchanting atmosphere created in the film that sends an important message to humanity about kindness, love, unity and urgency to protect children and make them understand that we adults are always there to protect them from any kind of harm.

In the end, Fred Rogers was clear about his intentions of television and how this need to be used. Cleverly selected interviews and archival footages give a complete picture of how dangerous TV can be if it’s misused. Even though the advice given by Mr. Rogers was: “If you see a scary television, there’s something you can do about it – just turn it off.” It seems, especially now, we no longer have that check and balance on TV that could help save the younger minds and have them be better prepared for the challenge of an adult life that comes with the full package of struggle and disappointment.

Having said that, there is nothing important than seeing something positive, inspiring and educational. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” has all the qualities to have a special place in every heart. It teaches to be good, to love genuinely, gratitude, honesty, discipline, to not discriminate children or anyone, acceptance, nurturing of the human personality, and more importantly, it emphasises that nothing is greater than human touch, hug and communication. And that tomorrow is our today, and if we do it right, we can succeed at anything. And the interesting fact is that Mr. Rogers was colorblind; something we may strive to become as well, metaphorically obviously, if we want to stop differentiating people from one another and start loving them as one soul. Because that’s how it works in a caring neighborhood. We don’t judge! We bring no pain. Harmony and peace is all what it’s about. And If you agree with this, please stay, have tea and enjoy your stay at “Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.

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