Culture Clips: The Most Unlikely Superhero: Fred Rogers

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Mister Rogers

In a world where superhero movies rake in hundreds of millions at the box office, a film that’s made $12.7 million so far might not seem like news. But when that movie is a documentary about the late Fred Rogers, it’s news indeed.

Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? has become one of the surprise hits of the summer. Admittedly, the numbers here aren’t exactly going to fuel movie moguls’ bonuses this quarter. But The Atlantic’s David Sims reports that this soft-spoken doc continues to gain theatrical traction, “expanding to hundreds more screens every week.”

Sims isn’t the only person writing about this film’s unlikely success. Many note that in our divided, partisan age, this portrait of a gentle, caring man seems like the balm we didn’t know we needed. New York Times contributor David Brooks writes, “The power is in Rogers’s radical kindness at a time when public kindness is scarce. It’s as if the pressure of living in a time such as ours gets released in that theater as we’re reminded that, oh yes, that’s how people can be.”

Another feel-good story played out in our newsfeeds and on TV screens this week too: the rescue of a 12-member Thai soccer team trapped in a cave by rising waters before being rescued by Navy SEALs. Not surprisingly, movie-making gears are already turning to bring this harrowing tale to the big screen.

What might be surprising, however, is the company set to tell that story: PureFlix, the Christian production company behind the God’s Not Dead franchise. CEO Michael Scott spent several days at the rescue site, and he told The Hollywood Reporter that the film—which will reportedly have a budget between $30 and $60 million—will be released by PureFlix’s mainstream Pinnacle Peak production company. “It’s not necessary to make this a Christian film, just an inspirational one,” Scott said.

Elsewhere in behind-the-scenes movie news this week, Pixar veteran Peter Doctor was named as the animation company’s Chief Creative Officer following the departure of John Lasseter amid allegations of sexual harassment. Relevant notes that Doctor has been pretty open about his Christian faith in the past, quoting a 2009 interview with Christianity Today in which Doctor talked about how his convictions quietly inform his moviemaking approach. “I don’t think people in any way, shape or form like to be lectured to,” he said. “When people go to a movie, they want to see some sort of experience of themselves on the screen. They don’t come to be taught. So in that sense, and in terms of any sort of beliefs, I don’t want to feel as though I’m ever lecturing or putting an agenda forth.”

And we’re not quite done with entertainment-and-faith stories yet. Justin Bieber announced his engagement to Hailey Baldwin (daughter of Stephen Baldwin) on Instagram this week. Bieber wrote, “I promise to lead our family with honor and integrity letting Jesus through his Holy Spirit guide us in everything we do and every decision we make. My heart is COMPLETELY and FULLY YOURS and I will ALWAYS put you first! … Gods timing really is literally perfect, we got engaged on the seventh day of the seventh month, the number seven is the number of spiritual perfection, it’s true GOOGLE IT! Isn’t that nuts?”

Meanwhile, Netflix hasn’t had the best week. The online video service has come under fire for streaming an Argentinian film that allegedly contains a scene that could be classified as child pornography, according to Fox News. And many conservatives are concerned about an upcoming animated series on Netflix called Super Drags, about (as its title suggests) superheroes in drag. About 20,000 people have thus far signed a Citizen Go petition launched by the Christian Film and Television Commission to keep the show from being streamed. Finally, the most recent episode of comedian Michelle Wolf’s Netflix show, The Break with Michelle Wolf, offered a “Salute to Abortions.” No word on whether those controversies have anything to do with Netflix’s decision to pull the plug on written reviews of its content by users.

Also in hot water this week: Laura Ingalls Wilder. Yes, that Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote Little House on the Prairie. The Association for Library Service to Children has decided to change the name of its former Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award due to allegations of Wilder harboring “stereotypical attitudes” about other races.

Some beg to differ. Writing for The Federalist, Joy Pullmann says the racial conflicts that Wilder wrote about (mostly between pioneers and Native Americans), “are rather remarkable examples of two sides of a conflict that both have very good reasons to suspect the other and nonetheless manage not to escalate those worries and premonitions into crimes such as theft, rape, and murder.”

Many teens these days, however, aren’t reading Little House on the Prairie. Instead, they’re fixated on dystopian fiction because, apparently, it “seems pretty real—and that’s why they like it.” And while we’re on the topic of books, Christianity Today reviewed Douglas E. Cowan’s book America’s Dark Theologian: The Religious Imagination of Stephen King. Book reviewer David Zahl observes, “While it’s true that organized religion seldom comes off well in his books, King handles the Christian faith itself in a myriad of ways—as the motivator for bravery just as often as cruelty, a reservoir of strength as well as a shield for cowardice.”

Speaking of horror, I’ll end with this. If you’ve ever experienced the momentary terror of dropping your smartphone and watching it plunge precipitously to the pavement (“NOOOOOOOO!!!!!), you’ll be pleased to know that the smartphone “airbag”—which deploys during a drop—is now a thing. Then again, since your high-tech smartphone is likely snooping on you in all kinds of disturbing ways, maybe dropping it on the concrete wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 10 months ago
I believe all atheists should be preached to until they finally realize there is a God.
Chuck Anziulewicz 10 months ago

When you were a small child, did you like to watch "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"? If so, you need to see "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" ASAP. I saw it this past Saturday, and it was absolutely the sweetest, most touching film I've seen in a while. Beautifully constructed film, lots of interviews with his wife, his sons, people that worked with him, and some really fascinating archival footage. Most of all, it's the perfect antidote for the ugly times in which we are living.


I was a bit too old to be a part of Mister Rogers' target audience, and of course he was easy to satirize and caricature. But the fact remains that young children ADORED him because he made them feel special. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. I promise you'll be very glad you went to see it.

Tricia 10 months ago
I absolutely agree, thought it was a wonderful film!
Anonymous 10 months ago
Mr. Rogers was a staple of my childhood, such a good man!

seraph_unsung 10 months ago
I'm confused, if I may ask—why was my comment deleted? Was it the length? The subject matter? The nature of it being related to an argument some other people were having? (Big thanks to everyone who liked it, though!  I really appreciate it!)
Anonymous 10 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

As someone who is both a Christian and a Pixar fan, it makes me extremely happy to know that Pete Doctor is now in charge of Pixar. In my opinion, he’s their best director and definitely deserves the position. Additionally, while it is sad to know that John Lasseter is fires from his positions, it could help Pixar to make better films more consistently. Lasseter has had to devide his time between Pixar and Disney animation, but now that both have their own separate leaders, perhaps they can both be making great movies simultaneously.
[removed] 10 months ago
This comment has been deleted
Anonymous 10 months ago
I still find it funny that the only reason Native Americans were called Indians in the first place was because Christopher Columbus hadn't realized that he discovered America and not India like he originally set out to do in the first place.
[removed] 10 months ago
This comment has been deleted
Anonymous 10 months ago
It can be difficult at times, but aren't we told to love our enemies? If we belittle and insult non-Christians, how will they see Christ?
seraph_unsung 10 months ago
I agree with you—they won't.

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." ~ Matthew 5:43-48, NIV

"Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." ~ Colossians 4:5-6, NIV

I obviously disagree with atheists on a number of topics, but they are human beings, and they deserve to be treated with love and dignity and to be treated fairly, not to be ridiculed or slandered.  If we condemn them for being toxic (and some of them are, but so too are some who speak in the name of the Lord) but then turn around and are cruel to them, how are we behaving any better than they?  We can't use the failings of others around us as our moral baseline.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Atheists shouldn't be loved pure and simple. They are backwards people who can't see the evidence of God all around them. Lest we forget it was an atheist father who tried to take God out of the pledge of allegiance. Atheists need to listen to Carman's song There Is A God to finally see the light.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Good to see you back again, bobed. We all missed you. :)
Anonymous 10 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Shhh! We mustn’t mention he who must not be named!
Anonymous 10 months ago
Oh, right! Sorry, forgot about that rule......

-Evan
Anonymous 10 months ago
I don't think that was bobed, I think bobed got banned... he posted a while ago about how he couldn't post anymore on his main account, but that post got deleted, I think. He's gone for good.

-Posted by Chuck
Gabe Powers 10 months ago
Can you guys please review twenty one pilot's new track Jumpsuit? thanks
Anonymous 10 months ago
John Chu is also looking to head his own project bringing the rescue of the Thai boys to the screen. As an Asian person who has created great content with Asian people before, i'm more inclined to trust him rather than PureFlix with the story. I mean, let's be honest, PureFlix will mostly likely insert a white, religious protagonist and set up some atheist as the antagonist - perhaps focus on the rescuers and barely pay attention to the boys themselves. Even if this is under their so-called 'mainstream company,' I doubt they would adapt the story well to a satisfactory point, as evident by their upcoming modern retelling of 'Little Women.'

I don't quite agree with the renaming of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, but at the same time, not many people read her books anymore. I don't think it's that controversial of a move, although I still think it was unnecessary.

I am very happy about Peter Doctor taking up the mantle at Pixar. I hope we get more original films like Inside Out; that was truly amazing.
charitysplace 10 months ago
I have lots of thoughts on the Laura Ingalls Award renaming, and none of them are nice. It feels like punishing her for being a product of her own time period -- when we are all products of our own time period, and in two hundred years, future generations might very well look back at significant figures in THIS generation and think how racist they were. History always marches forward. You should not judge historical figures by modern standards of enlightenment.
B Evans 10 months ago
I'm sure the rescue of the boys and their coach would be a riveting and inspirational story, but this rush to get it to the screen feels like nothing more than voyeurism married to materialism - "hurry, let's expose all the inner workings of these boys' traumatic experience before anyone else does so we get the money from it."
Anonymous 10 months ago
Can't wait to find out how PureFlix shoehorns in a generic "evil atheist" character who hates everybody because reasons into it like they always do! :D
Anonymous 10 months ago
Stop bashing the God's Not Dead movies. The first one was all about showing the many ways God isn't dead in this world through philosophy seminars, the second one showed a teacher willing to quote the bible in school in a completely historical sense, and the third one had many resonant themes like a lack of faith and responding to violence the right way. Just because there are atheists in the movies doesn't make them any less worthwhile or praiseworthy.
Anonymous 10 months ago
I'm not angry that there are atheists in the God's Not Dead movies, I'm mad at how they always portray atheists in those movies as a bunch of mustache-twilring misanthropic sociopaths who just want to destroy everything good in the world. It's be like if there was a pro-athieism movie that portrayed all Christians as psychotic bigoted crusader types who want to destroy everyone who doesn't believe like they do. Either way, it's toxic, stereotypical, and we should know better as both Christians and humans with empathy in general. I hope that makes sense.

-Evan
Anonymous 10 months ago
God's Not Dead (at least the 1st one) is my least favorite movie of all time and I feel it did more damage to the Christian faith than people realize. I feel this way for two reasons:
1) The atheist character dies, and then the movie quickly cuts to everyone celebrating at a Newsboy's concert.
2) At real life Newsboys concerts after the film, entire crowds would loudly boo and heckle the atheist character on screen and then cheer for the christian one. It was at this moment that I realized I could never again take a non-Christian friend to a Newsboys concert (or any similar Christian band) because the band had let their fear of the enemy conquer the love of Jesus.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Well said, I remember watching a video by a Christian about the low quality and toxic mindsets of Christian movies like God's Not Dead and he brought up a very similar experience to yours at a recent Newsboys concert and brought up a very similar point to yours. It's honestly quite sickening that fellow Christians think that is in anyway an okay way to treat anyone with a different belief system then they have.

-Evan
Julienne Dy 10 months ago
Oh, come on!  I grew up reading Little House on the Prairie.  It's a good book series.  I mean, Wilder might have been distrustful of Native Americans in her books, but she kind of had good reason to be.  Living out in the prairie was full of dangers, and the Native Americans can be just as cruel to the settlers as the some settlers were to them.
B Evans 10 months ago
I think I'm the only person I know of who has never read that series and doesn't want to.
Miss Priss 10 months ago
I completely agree. I'm a woman of color and I had no problems reading the books. Obviously I didn't appreciate the racist overtones and scenes in some of the books, but I understood that Laura was a product of her time. As such, she was not going to be progressive in all of her attitudes, thoughts, and actions. I doubt few books written in years past would pass that test.
Anonymous 10 months ago
I didn't pick up on racist undertones as a kid, but apparently the publisher later changed some of the more racist passages like "there were no people there, only Indians." Even if that was culturally acceptable at the time, it certainly should not have been acceptable as a published statement by someone with such a faith-based background.
Anonymous 10 months ago
My only problem with the series was that in one of the books, her father and other men did blackface and mocked black speech and behavior, while their families laughed at them. Definitely not a scene I appreciated; even before I really knew the connotations of such an action I already felt uncomfortable reading it.