Lunacy! Moon movie accused of insulting US

Over the moon: Ryan Gosling plays the astronaut Neil Armstrong, who died in 2012.

Is First Man anti-American? The film, which comes out today, tells the story of Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the Moon – but does not show him planting the US flag. Some are furious…

Near the end of First Man, a new biopic about Neil Armstrong, Ryan Gosling lands on the Moon. We see him descend from the lunar lander, walk on the Moon’s surface and gaze at tiny planet Earth. Behind him, a US flag stands tall beside the lander.

What we do not see is Gosling, who plays Armstrong, actually raise the flag. When they became the first men to walk on the Moon in 1969, Armstrong and his fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin marked their achievement by planting the Stars and Stripes in its hard soil. A fifth of all humans back home watched the moment live on TV – but it does not feature in First Man.

Critics noticed this at the film’s premiere in August. Gosling defended the decision, describing the Moon landing as “a human achievement”. Armstrong’s sons agreed, pointing out that the film focuses on their father’s “personal experience of completing this journey”, rather than politics.

Even so, a fiery online dispute broke out. Many people were furious at what they saw as an attempt to play down the US’s success. A #BoycottFirstMan campaign was launched. Aldrin tweeted a photo of himself saluting the flag on the Moon, with the caption #ProudToBeAnAmerican. President Donald Trump declared he would not see the film.

The mission to the Moon took place at the height of the “space race” between the US and the Soviet Union. Worried by the Soviets’ swift technological progress, the US poured money into this project. It paid off: on July 20, 1969, Armstrong stepped onto the Moon, uttering the now-famous words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The US was not claiming the Moon for itself — it had signed a treaty that confirmed that space belongs to no one. NASA even considered planting a United Nations flag. American politicians disagreed, and convinced the agency to send the Stars and Stripes instead as a “gesture of national pride”.

According to its critics, First Man rewrites history and wounds that national pride. Do they have a point?

One small misstep for cinema?

Yes, say some. When you make a film about history, you must not mislead viewers. The planting of the flag was an iconic moment — after all, back on Earth, the space race was hugely important. Cutting it changes the meaning of the event completely. The filmmakers are liberals who dislike patriotism. They have put their own values before the facts.

Nonsense, reply others. Did Armstrong say “one giant leap for Americans”? No. He knew that what he was doing went far beyond politics. First Man shows plenty of US flags; it leaves viewers in no doubt about the nation’s achievement. But it also understands that the Moon landing was a magical moment for all the world’s people.

You Decide

  1. Do you want to see First Man?
  2. Was the US right to plant its flag on the Moon?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are the first person to walk on the Moon. Come up with a one-sentence message to say to people on Earth as you do so.
  2. Watch the two trailers for First Man in Become An Expert. Write a short essay comparing them. Do you think the controversy influenced the later trailer?

Some People Say...

“Shoot for the stars, but if you happen to miss, shoot for the Moon instead.”

Neil Armstrong

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
First Man has mostly gone down well with critics: it has a 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that averages reviews. Nicholas Barber of the BBC called it a “riveting, exhaustively researched and utterly believable film”. It has been tipped for the Oscars. Some have argued that the filmmakers left out the flag scene because they believe that Oscars voters don’t like patriotism.
What do we not know?
To state the obvious: most of us don’t know what exactly is in the film. The controversy around the flag broke out just after its premiere, when only a small handful of critics and industry figures had seen it. Some say that people should not have an opinion, whether positive or negative, on a film that they have not yet seen. What do you think?

Word Watch

Lunar lander
A spacecraft designed to land on the surface of the Moon.
Stars and Stripes
A nickname for the US flag, which contains 50 stars (one for each current state) and 13 stripes (one for each original colony).
Space race
From the 1950s, the Soviet Union began to demonstrate its superior technology by sending the first man-made object, and then the first human, into space. But the US quickly caught up, and managed to land humans on the Moon first.
Treaty
In the 1960s, the age of colonialism was coming to an end on Earth. Nations signed the Outer Space Treaty in 1967 to ensure that something similar would not happen with moons and planets. It is still in effect.
United Nations
An organisation of 193 countries that works to promote global peace and cooperation.

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