The unspoken question that animates “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is what Fred Rogers would make of the present day, when the culture seems to have congealed into a permanent state of outrage, vulgarity and mutual intolerance.
Neville ingeniously constructs his film to tell many stories: the little-engine-that-could tale of how the laughably low-tech “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” became such an unlikely hit; the spiritual biography of a man whose vocation intersected with the most powerful mass medium of the 20th century; the weaponization of that medium on behalf of polemic and consumerism; and the slow, sometimes contradictory path of a man who prized inclusiveness and community, but asked a gay colleague to stay in the closet or risk being fired.
But to his everlasting credit, Neville doesn’t stop there. Rather than a wistful look back at the way things used to be, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” leaves viewers wrestling with our own collective conscience in the here-and-now, contemplating our own commitment to the unconditional love and acceptance that Rogers championed so passionately.
We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.