Tom Hanks has been tapped to play Fred Rogers in a new biopic titled A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, documenting he and his revolutionary show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
The film is based on an article written by journalist Tom Junod (played by The Americans Emmy-winner Matthew Rhys), that centered on the TV star Fred Rogers and the ensuing friendship the two formed before Rogers’ death in 2003.
If you ask a child today who Mr. Rogers was, nine times out of ten they’ll have no answer for you. While the 34-year-long run of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ended in 2001, making it unlikely and in some cases impossible for children today to have seen the program but it does feel weird, seeing a generation completely oblivious to who he or his show still feels off.
For over three decades Fred Rogers created a safe place for millions of children, like me, tackling life and all its complexities with kindness and honesty.
If you didn’t recognize him by his red sweater, you did from him opening jingle and if you didn’t know the jingle you knew him from his warm invitation to be his neighbor. And it’s just doesn’t feel right when someone says they don’t at least know of him.
At its peak, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’s ratings were at 2.1 percent, or 1.8 million homes, and ended up being the third-longest running program in PBS history. To say he was beloved is an understatement. He touched thousands and gave broke barriers.
Given how polarizing our current social climate is, some would say Mr. Rogers is exactly what this nation needs. At least that’s what the A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood director, Morgan Neville thinks.
When asked if neighborliness was still “alive in the land” by ABC News reporter in a June 2018 interview about the film, Neville responds, “that’s why I made this film:
“I want to know. Let’s have a discussion, are we living up to what Fred Rogers wanted us to do?” he asked.
Well, now kids, Trump and all who “need” him finally get that chance when A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood arrives in theaters on Nov. 22. Before that, however, let’s take a look into the hype.
So often when legends have gotten older or past their prime and even when their dead, people tend to dig up sore parts of their past and uncover things about them that make their legacy problematic.
Mr. Rogers is quite the opposite. Here are four things you didn’t know about Mr. Rogers that made him the best neighbor of all-time.
Mr. Rogers was a minister
If you want to know anything about Mr. Rogers, very high on the list should be that he was a Presbyterian minister whose life’s work was built around Leviticus 19:18 (Love your neighbor as yourself). It’s from there where the neighborhood was derived.
He once said in an interview, “to love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now,” and his life’s work reflected that.
Mr. Rogers was a revolutionary who challenged racial stereotypes
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was one of the first programs to feature African-Americans at a time where they had little visibility on camera, playing a police officer at that.
The scene was of them cooling their feet in a pool together which, as François states, was intentional. Rogers was inspired by the new testament’s account of Jesus washing the feet of his new disciple, Peter.
François was also gay. And, although being a minister, Fred saught to protect and not oust him.
Mr. Rogers spoke plainly about the truth
One of the biggest gems of Mr. Rogers and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was how he never shied away from the truth.
In contrast to children’s programs today which are live, action-packed animations full of color and fluff, Mr. Rogers regularly tackled topics like divorce, depression and even death.
In one famous episode, they ask “what does assassination mean?” after the murder of RFK in 1968.
Rather than trying to hide or minimize or gaslight because it seems too hard, they leaned right into it, naming true things and simply holding space to let children deal with them.
Now, there’s no true way of knowing for sure being that he is deceased but Fred Rogers does have a quote that may shed light on how he feels about the LGBTQ community.
A quote from The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers went viral earlier this year. The quote, a response to the idea that sexuality is a spectrum, was classic Fred Rogers, honest and open. “I must be right smack in the middle.”
“Because I have found women attractive, and I have found men attractive,” he told his openly gay friend Dr. William Hirsch.
Fred Rogers wanted to love everyone. He wanted everyone to feel accepted and for all to work with one another. I think it’s safe to say he was successful.
Here’s a commencement speech in his later years in life. Get fuel for your soul and make sure you look our for the Tom Hanks movie on his life in November.