Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday morning and while there was no shortage of snubs (justice for Paddington 2!) and surprises (a Marvel movie other than Black Panther got a nomination?), perhaps the biggest snub and surprise of the nominations was the fact that Won’t You Be My Neighbor did not receive a nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
The Morgan Neville documentary, which focused on the career and legacy of Mr. Rogers, was every bit as loved as America’s favorite cardigan-clad TV host, earning a 98 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes (213 out of 217 reviewers gave it a positive review) and an 85 percent approval rating on Metacritic. The movie was hailed by critics, with A.O. Scott of The New York Times calling it a “moving and illuminating new documentary” and Common Sense Media’s Sandie Angulo Chen wrote it was “a touching, triumphant tribute to Fred Rogers.”
Won’t You Be My Neighbor was not just loved by critics; it was an audience favorite as well, becoming the top-grossing biographical documentary of all time by earning over $22 million at the domestic box office. It even got an endorsement from none other than former President Barack Obama, who included it on his list of favorite movies from 2018 alongside Black Panther, Roma, and many other films that received Oscar nominations. In fact, many movie fans took to the internet to voice their displeasure with Won’t You Be My Neighbor being omitted from this morning’s nominations, including Bill Simmons, who referred to the snub as a “quadruple WTF.”
So if Won’t You Be My Neighbor was a smash hit with both critics and audiences alike, why didn’t it get any love from Academy voters? It’s hard to pin down a specific reason but looking at the other nominations may be the best explanation. Of the five nominees, it seems likely that Neighbor was overshadowed by fellow bio doc RGB, which looked at the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Because if there is one person the internet loves more than Fred Rogers, it may be Ginsberg. Additionally, RGB may have felt more relevant than Neighbor, as RGB has become a liberal icon due to her resistance against Trump and her recent health scares have made her a consistent presence in the news. Rogers, meanwhile, passed away almost 15 years after the release of Won’t You Be My Neighbor, making him far less prevalent on the social zeitgeist.
But even with all of that in mind, it’s hard to make sense of Won’t You Be My Neighbor not receiving a nomination on a pure filmmaking level. Absolutely no disrespect to the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg but the fact remains that Won’t You Be My Neighbor was a better movie than most of the Oscar nominations, including RBG, which earned lower ratings on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. Neighbor wasn’t just one of the best documentaries of the year, it remains one of the most powerful and touching movies of 2018, as Neville managed to show how Rogers managed to become a global advocate for compassion, courage, and emotional intelligence. Much like Rogers himself, the movie was smart without being condescending, funny without being cruel, and kind without compromising.
So while movie experts will be speculating about whether or not A Star Is Born has a legitimate shot at winning Best Picture, we will be opting to instead to take a trip back to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor in order to fully appreciating this once-in-a-generation talent whose legacy has lived on long past his death.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.