Movie Review - Won't You Be My Neighbor?
We do see that on Rogers' program, he would directly address topical, news stories like the Vietnam War, RFK's assassination and divorce. His approach was to parrot the emotions of children and try to mollify them with soft-spoken consolations but also genuine explanations. In general, his theme centered on dealing with grief by using assuring platitudes. He was a Presbyterian minister but thankfully he didn't seem to use TV as a method of proselytizing. He never revealed his ideology directly through his program with the exception of what he didn't show.
The true source of homophobia has come from religion. Rogers had a gay man as an actor on his show. However, Rogers never allowed any homosexuality displayed on the air. The Stonewall riots happened in 1969 the year after his show premiered. The HIV/AIDS epidemic happened in the 80's. Same-sex marriage was a key issue during the 2000 Presidential election, the year before Rogers show ended for good, but for Rogers not to do a show on gay love being just as valid as any other love or for Rogers not to do a show on the plight of gay people during the AIDS crisis proved a kind of cowardice. Even Sesame Street had a character that directly addressed HIV and AIDS. Rogers though lacked the courage of his convictions to be bold enough to be a so-called better example for gay children. Some of whom I'm sure watched his show.
What is perhaps most offensive is that Rogers did think he was better than everyone else or that his example was so vital. His subtle arrogance is amplified by Neville's montages. Rogers apparently believed that children's television or children's programming was basically garbage or what's described as too loud and implied as too violent. Rogers seemed to suggest his show was the only port in the storm and Neville's montages even seem to confirm this argument from Rogers, which is patently false.
Neville's documentary doesn't place Rogers' show in its proper context. It doesn't mention those aforementioned, puppet shows, which paved the way. Doing so might not support Rogers' supercilious idea about his own show. This point is underlined when Neville's film reveals Rogers' reason for returning to the airwaves after going on hiatus in 1976.
In 1978, Rogers continued doing his show after a two-year break and he did so in reaction to the release of Superman (1978). Allegedly, there was news reports of a child who jumped off a roof thinking he was the caped hero from Krypton. Rogers believed it was his job to go back on the air to do an episode, specifically addressing this incident. Yet, apocryphal stories of children doing things like that surrounded the TV series Adventures of Superman (1952), which ended a decade before Rogers' show. The animated series Super Friends (1973), featuring Superman, had been on the air concurrently to his show, leading up to that incident, so I don't get the urgency. How many children were jumping off roofs? One such example doesn't rise to the level of a political assassination or even something like divorce, which was more common-spread. Rogers instead seemed driven by some kind of privileged, white-savior complex.
Now, I don't object to Rogers doing an episode teaching children to distinguish what they see on TV from reality and that they can't actually be Superman, but the tone of Rogers is very arrogant as to say directly to camera that others don't know what's right for children and that he's the only one who knows what's right for children. That's almost an exact quote from him. Yet, there's a cognitive dissonance in that he didn't want children mimicking things on TV by telling them to mimic something on TV, namely himself.
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.