Robert F. Kennedy and Mr. Rogers: Two icons of masculine empathy sorely missed today

Eileen G’Sell, lecturer in the College Writing Program in Arts & Sciences

Aside from a rather anagrammatic aspect to their full names, the two men couldn’t seem more different: one a life-long Republican and ordained Presbyterian minister, the other a Catholic lawyer and Democratic royalty; one six feet tall, the other the “runt” of the family; one naturally athletic, and the other so gangly that his 1985 breakdancing is painful to watch to this day.

But two new documentaries, released within months of each other, reveal just how much Kennedy and Rogers share in common: Dawn Porter’s “Bobby Kennedy for President”, on Netflix since April, and Morgan Neville’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, in theatres June 8, two days after the fiftieth anniversary of RFK’s assassination.

Porter’s four-part series follows Bobby’s transformation from hotheaded Attorney General to civil rights activist and presidential contender, and Neville (who nabbed an Oscar for “Twenty Feet from Stardom”) chronicles Rogers’s influence on both public television and the ethos of children’s entertainment.

Born three years apart — and both into affluence, though of varying degrees —the two men were rife in contradiction, yet consistently on the side of the disenfranchised. Just as it’s hard to imagine that the “most trusted white man in Black America” would have holidayed regularly in Europe as a child, it is equally difficult to imagine any wealthy white guy, let alone a conservative minister, devoting his life to making children’s television a radically progressive space.

Read the full piece in Salon.

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