Jacob Tierney | Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, 5:00 p.m.
The Oscar nominees for best documentary take viewers to hazardous mountaintops, war-torn Syria and the chambers of the Supreme Court — but not the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Last year’s Fred Rogers documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” won almost universal acclaim from critics and viewers and became the highest-grossing biographical documentary of all time, but that wasn’t good enough for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The film didn’t garner any Oscar nominations.
Moviegoers weren’t happy about that, and many took to the internet to say so.
“I know from looking at social media that a lot of people are feeling that way, because they were so connected,” said Cara Friez, chair of cinema arts at Point Park University. “People were hoping this would be the opportunity to really let his story shine.”
A survey of more than 1,000 people conducted by movie site Fandango named “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” this year’s “most shocking” Oscar snub.
“Normally, documentaries are so overlooked, nobody really notices or cares, so that just shows you how much people loved Mr. Rogers,” Fandango correspondent Nikki Novak said.
Pittsburgh-area film experts and those devoted to preserving Rogers’ legacy said the Oscar news was disappointing but didn’t undercut the film’s impact.
“On one hand, it’s a disappointment; on the other hand, it’s good the documentary got so much interest,” said Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film office.
The early buzz surrounding “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” may have helped spur development of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a Fred Rogers biopic starring Tom Hanks that filmed in Pittsburgh earlier this year and is slated for release in the fall, Keezer said.
“It’s nice that we’re able to share Mr. Rogers with the rest of the world,” she said.
Both film projects highlight Rogers’ legacy.
“The most important recognition has come from the countless people who have rediscovered Fred Rogers and been inspired by his talent, scholarship, commitment, and grace thanks to this incredible film,” Fred Rogers Productions President Paul Siefken said of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”
Rogers founded Fred Rogers Productions, originally known as Family Communications, and the company continues to make children’s programming like “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”
Before the nominations were announced, many people thought “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” was a “shoo-in” to win best documentary, Novak said.
It’s unclear why it wasn’t nominated, though it may have something to do with the insular nature of the selection process, she said.
“Only documentarians vote on the best (documentary), and they can be a little snobby,” Novak said.
This year’s other “most shocking” snubs include Bradley Cooper, who didn’t get a best director nod for “A Star is Born” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” which was not nominated in any category.
Novak believes the Oscars usually get the nominations right — but there’s always a few oversights.
“Every year, you get something that will get snubbed or overlooked, and I think you just don’t want to (anger) Mr. Rogers fans,” she said.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is coming to television soon. It will debut on HBO and PBS Feb. 9.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter @Soolseem.