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…

In First Man, a new biopic about Neil Armstrong, Ryan Gosling lands on the Moon. He descends from the lunar lander, walks on the Moon’s surface and gazes at tiny Earth. Behind him, a US flag stands tall.

What we do not see is Gosling, who plays Armstrong, raise the flag. When they became the first men to walk on the Moon, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the Stars and Stripes in its hard soil. A fifth of all humans watched the moment live on TV — but it does not feature in First Man.

Critics noticed this at the premiere in August. Gosling defended the decision, calling the Moon landing “a human achievement”. Armstrong’s sons agreed.

Even so, a fiery online dispute broke out. Many were furious at what they saw as an attempt to play down the US’s success. Aldrin tweeted a photo of himself saluting the flag on the Moon, with the caption #ProudToBeAnAmerican.

The mission took place at the height of the “space race”. Worried by the Soviets’ technological progress, the US poured money into this project.

It paid off: on July 20, 1969, Armstrong stepped onto the Moon, uttering the words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The US was not claiming the Moon; its politicians just sent the flag as a “gesture of national pride”.

Should the film have shown this?

One small misstep for cinema?

Yes, say some. When you make a film about history, you must be accurate. The planting of the flag was an iconic moment — back on Earth, the space race was very important. Cutting it changes the meaning of the event completely.

Nonsense, reply others. Did Armstrong say “one giant leap for Americans”? No. What he was doing went far beyond politics. First Man shows plenty of US flags, but it reminds us that the Moon landing was a magical moment for the whole world.

You Decide

  1. Was the US right to plant its flag on the Moon?


  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.

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. The BBC called it a “riveting, exhaustively researched and utterly believable film”.
What do we not know?
Most of us don’t know what exactly is in the film. The controversy around the flag broke out when only a few critics and industry figures had seen it. Do you think it is right to have an opinion on a film you have not seen?

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.

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