NEW YORK – Escapism is usually the domain of big-budget spectacles, but a couple of blockbuster documentaries have prevailed at the box office because they are a respite from today's headlines.
The Fred Rogers documentary, "Will not you be my neighbor," and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "RBG," have all played at some of the densest theaters of the season. In eight weeks, "RBG" has made $ 10.9 million, a mammoth sum for any documentary. Morgan Neville's "Will not you be my neighbor" has grossed $ 4.1
Both films have cracked the top 10 movies at the box office. old justice and a late Presbyterian in multiplexes alongside spandex superheroes and supernatural thrillers. Documentaries, often sober counter programming for the summer months, instead provide the most powerful source of feel-good inspiration of the film season – especially for liberal moviegoers.
"It's an escape from what they read in the papers every day or online – these are messages of positivity and how the good character of people can triumph over terrible situations," said Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia Pictures, which partnered with Participant Media and CNN to distribute "RBG".
"There is a wide range of our country that is terribly dissatisfied," added Bowles. "RBG and Fred Rogers, their sensitivity lies in helping other people, and our current administration basically seems to hurt people in distress who do not overlook the greater humanity."
Rogers and Ginsburg both broke through the end of 60s and early 70s. "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" made its national debut in 1968. Ginsburg became known four years later when co-founding the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU. Both were modest, meek people driven by a sense of empathy and belief in community.
"Fred told two to six-year-olds how to be human and how to treat other people, and it feels like we all need to sit down and learn that lesson again," Neville said. "He's been trying to teach us how to behave in a community and society together, and the value of courtesy and the value of honoring that relationship, and we live in times that do not honor that at all."  Both films are a particularly tense moment in American politics. On Tuesday, Ginsburg teamed with Sonia Sotomayor to write a sharp controversy over the court's 5-4 ruling in favor of President Trump's ban on seven majority Muslim nations. Her stubborn reputation was only strengthened on Wednesday when four-year-old justice candidate Anthony Kennedy announced his resignation.
"We will run all summer," said Bowles of "RBG"
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Neville wanted to do "Will you be my neighbor" because he sensed that Roger's voice was missing in American culture.
"Do not you want to be My Neighbor" shows Rogers strong gestures for equality and his passionate advocacy for public television. But the documentary, like its lifelong Republican theme, seeks to avoid politics and instead focus on Roger's humanist, compassionate lessons.
"People tried to politicize Fred many times and he always resisted, he never wanted to apologize to a child or a child's parents for not seeing the show, and I want to honor that," Neville said. "I try as much as possible in this day and age to find things that we can agree with."
That has been particularly difficult lately. As Neville's film was released, indignation grew over the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant children from parents who illegally enter the United States. A federal judge in California issued a nationwide injunction on Tuesday to temporarily suspend politics
"Fred would have been heartbroken over what happened to children separated from their families," Neville said. "Fred always first thought of the child's and child's experience and understanding of how vulnerable children are."
What gave Neville hope is the overwhelming response to "Do not you want to be my neighbor." Some theaters have performed charity events in addition to screenings. Stories of moviegoers overwhelmed by emotions were rampant. "Friggin's face faucet, buddy," said actor-actor Kumail Nanjiani on Twitter.
"At a time when there is not much optimism about our shared bonds, this film shows me that people care about these things," said Neville. "It's this idea that kindness is not quirky and naïve and old-fashioned, but that kindness is important to move forward, and I think many people feel that way."
It happened, in part, due to the shared experience of Film screenings, something that would not have been possible if both documentaries had gone directly to Netflix. Bowles said the audience's backbone for "RBG" was "mothers, daughters and grandmothers".
"People are looking around and they say we want shared experiences," said David Linde, managing director of Participant. "And these are real films by filmmakers who wanted to see them in the movies, and I'm not surprised that everyone is coming to the cinemas to see them."
Jake Coyle is an Associated Press writer.