What’s up with the American-flag controversy in Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’?

75th International Venice Film Festival

Here are some more photos of the Venice Film Festival promotion for First Man. Damien Chazelle reunited with his La La Land muse Ryan Gosling to tell the true story of Neil Armstrong. It seems like a pretty cut-and-dry bio-pic of that time in Neil Armstrong’s life, the early days of the space program and becoming the first man to walk on the moon. Ryan plays Neil Armstrong and Claire Foy plays his wife Janet. Corey Stoll plays Buzz Aldrin, and overall, the cast seems lit. The reviews coming out of Venice are pretty good too. Here’s one of the trailers:

I’ll admit it, I only watched the trailer for the first time just now, as I was writing up this post. While I am SO tired of bio-pics, I do think this looks good. I’ll watch it. This doesn’t look as aggressively fart-sniffy as last year’s pathetic Churchill bio-pic, which won Gary Oldman an Oscar. It’s even possible that Ryan Gosling will finally win an Oscar. Anything is possible.

But of course there’s a controversy. That controversy? There should be more flags… or something?

First Man, the upcoming Neil Armstrong biopic from La La Land director Damien Chazelle, premiered at Venice Film Festival this week. Critics almost universally adored it, but there’s a famous moment missing from the dramatized version of Armstrong’s first-ever moonwalk and, as with most things in 2018, the absence has stirred up some controversy around the American flag.

Although the flag left on Earth’s moon during the first landing does appear in the movie, you don’t actually see the moment it was planted. That omission has riled some of the more sensitive defenders of American space dominance, because patriotism, I suppose.

[From Mashable]

On one side, I think people are idiots for being riled up about whether or not the planting of the flag is given an important moment on screen. On the other side… why would you omit that from the film? It would be like doing a bio-pic of Eisenhower and omitting D-Day. Then again, as Mashable notes, it’s not a straight-up omission, it’s just that the PLANTING of the flag doesn’t happen on-screen. The controversy has gotten so weird that even Neil Armstrong’s sons had to chime in about the (admittedly authorized) bio-pic. Their point was that the film depicts the human story of Neil Armstrong, the man/husband/father, not the “American icon” who “won the space race.”

So after all that, Buzz Aldrin had to tweet out this shady hashtag game. Oh, Buzz. What are you doing??

75th International Venice Film Festival - 'First Man' - Photocall

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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47 Responses to “What’s up with the American-flag controversy in Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’?”

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  1. greenmonster says:

    How I wish people would respect other people as much as they ‘respect” the flag.

    • Shijel says:

      One thing I’ll never understand about the US is the worship of the flag. My country’s flag is important to us as well – it absolutely is a symbol of national awakening and gaining independence from the Russian Empire, and later again a symbol of hope once we regained independence from the Russian Empire’s ugly f-cking daughter, the Soviet Union. But at the end of the day, it’s still just a damned flag, and the real spirit and symbol lies not in our flag but the people (as awful as we can be, lol).

      The Pledge of Alliance to the Flag and the like are all creepily nationalistic. Even the ‘retirement’ of a tattered flag is freaky. Bizarre worship, idolatry. And a little messed, because the damned flag gets more respect and dignity than at least a solid third of the citizens under that flag.

      end rant. what the hell.

      • greenmonster says:

        Totally agree. The worship of the US flag and the direct connection to the troops always blows my mind. But I’m German and yeah…

      • Jerusha says:

        I absolutely believe that the flag is worshipped by native born Americans who couldn’t pass the citizenship test if they had a cheat sheet in front of them. So much easier than actually knowing something about the Constitution and our history.

      • Milla says:

        I as well, cannot understand that flag worshipping. If you cannot respect another person and If you ignore the history, flag is just some patern.

      • Ange says:

        Most other countries also follow a constitution but they don’t need to bray so loudly about it. That’s the point.

      • JanetDR says:

        Yeah, it’s gotten ridiculous since 9/11. There seems to be a trend of “I’m more patriotic than you” since then.

      • KT says:

        We do not follow the flag as another poster said. It is symbolic of our country just as other the flags of other countries. Some in our country have usurped this and try to put more meaning and different connotations to fit agendas. Sort of like if you don’t fly a flag you aren’t patriotic or love your country, it’s ridiculous

    • Moe says:

      So true. People haven’t even seen the film yet so how do they know it’s unpatriotic due to one detail? The story itself is a very American tale. I wish we could all be a bit more patient. Everyone gets so riled up so quickly in the age of the internet it can be exhausting all this endless polarization

      • Himmiefan says:

        They should at least see the film before they start complaining. It seems like this is much to do about nothing – or brilliant manipulation/free publicity.

  2. kyle randall says:

    Because there aren’t enough movies in the history of cinema celebrating America’s americanness?

    • Queenb says:

      Which only contributes to that fragility. When we talk about diversity its usually about skin color but whats often left out is how Hollywood shapes stereotypes about other cultures and countries.

    • hunter says:

      When I wake up in the morning I hug a bald eagle over my breakfast of Freedom Flakes.

  3. C-Shell says:

    Aldrin lost all credibility for me (a child of the space race era) when he “competed” on Dancing With The Stars. His facelifts, among other things, are an epic mistake.

    • moco says:

      I’ll agree that he stepped in it with this tweet, but Aldrin has spent decades lobbying for more activity in space, from the space station in the 90′s to Mars missions now. He may be too old lately, but he toured the country well into his 80′s with his “Get Your Ass To Mars” lectures and has written several books about Mars exploration for kids (that my son LOVES). His name is on lots of space gear you can get at Target and he always asks kids if they are going to be the first human to set foot on Mars. He hasn’t been perfect, but he has been out there using his notoriety for a cause he believes in.

  4. adastraperaspera says:

    I think it’s important that movies depicting historical events don’t include fictional renderings that negate the facts. However, in this case, the movie apparently includes shots of the flag on the moon, so it seems to me that Rubio and others are creating a tempest in a teapot.

  5. Marie says:

    The planting of the flag was a mess. It took ages for them to assemble it properly, then they had trouble actually getting it in the ground, then they almost dropped it, then they went back to struggling to plant it. All this while they’re sort of gently bouncing around. If you put it in the film it would be a physical comedy scene, not a moving patriotic scene. I guess some people imagine it as an astronaut striding out and slamming the flag triumphantly into the moon, but…that’s not how it went down.

    The flag also face planted as they were leaving, but I’m guessing the people pretending to care about historical accuracy are just fine with that moment being left out.

    • Mel M says:

      This! Exactly, but who cares about facts these days.

    • Juls says:

      This is probably the reason WHY it was left out of the movie. Depicting it the way it actually happened, or the way people think it happened (slamming it into the ground proudly)…..Either way would cause problems. So they just left it out. Maybe the darn thing is floating around in space somewhere at this point, it wouldn’t bother me a bit.

    • hunter says:

      This is hilarious – thank you for sharing – depending on the tone of the movie that could have been quite a funny scene.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      Yeah, I had read years ago that it took them 1/2 hour to actually “plant” the flag. Should a movie spend 30 minutes recreating that? Or, should the movie depict a FALSE recreation that happens in seconds? I think most of the people protesting don’t know actual history, and haven’t even seen the movie — this is just their chance to scream at liberal Hollywood, and show their Facebook friends how very patriotic they are. It’s embarrassing.

    • Arpeggi says:

      That’s amazing! I didn’t know it had been such a daunting task, but it makes sense. And now I would have loved seeing it on screen just because it would have been an hilarious scene and would have upset the same ppl that are currently upset.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      The audience would probably just break out into the old MTV promo music! That’s what it makes me think of anyway. ;)

    • Himmiefan says:

      Thanks. I had a feeling there was a good reason why it was left out.

  6. Lightpurple says:

    None of these flag plant idiots have actually seen the movie.

  7. Susannah says:

    The filmmakers keep saying this was a human achievement not an American one but that’s not true really, it was definitely an American achievement funded by U.S. tax dollars, planned and executed by NASA workers, acheieved through Kennedy’s political will and legacy, etc. Whether you show the planting of the US flag though, doesn’t take away from the Americaness of the moon landing but then politicians wouldn’t be able to exploit that and try to get you to be angry about a movie instead of the state of the US today.

    • Harla says:

      Wow Susannah, your last sentence is the utter and complete truth “but then politicians wouldn’t be able to exploit that and try to get you to be angry about a movie instead of the state of the US today”. One could interchange the word “movie” with just about any other thing the politicians are using to distract us from the state of the US today.

      • Susannah says:

        It really bugs me that Mario Rubio is the one leading the charge against the movie. Kids in his state are going back to school this week and yet as their senator he’s done NOTHING to prevent them from being slaughtered in their classrooms as they were last year. This is the thing he’s outraged about and wants rectified? Who cares about the kids, there’s no American flag in a movie to him that’s what’s important. I hope the voters in Florida won’t allow him to get away with it.

    • Queenb says:

      “planned and executed by NASA workers”
      And where did they come from? Little hint: Those rockets were german technology.

      to be more precise:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wernher_von_Braun

      “He was the leading figure in the development of rocket technology in Germany and the father of rocket technology and space science in the United States.
      Following the war, he was secretly moved to the United States, along with about 1,600 other German scientists, engineers, and technicians, as part of Operation Paperclip. He worked for the United States Army on an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) program and he developed the rockets that launched the United States’ first space satellite Explorer 1. His group was assimilated into NASA, where he served as director of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center and as the chief architect of the Saturn V super heavy-lift launch vehicle that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon.”

      Thats one of those things thats always left out. Lots of terrible men got away with their war crimes.

      • Susannah says:

        The West and the US in particular made a lot of compromises after WW2 under the guise of the Cold War. One of them was making deals with Nazis to keep the technology out of the hands of the Soviets. At least that’s what they told the people but it was mainly used to help with the Space Race and other Cold War elements. I guess the one thing you could say is that least this time the technology was used for the betterment of humanity in getting humans on the moon rather than the actual reason it was created in the first place.

    • moco says:

      It was an American achievement and the space race transformed this country, but it’s not like Armstrong climbed out of the lander with a triumphant “America, f**k yeah!”. He very intentionally said “one giant leap for mankind” so it seems legitimate to say, in a movie ABOUT Armstrong, not about Apollo 11, that he was trying to make the focus bigger.

  8. grabbyhands says:

    The empty headed fury over this non-issue is the personification of 2018 America – rabid, goose stepping worship of the symbol and zero attention paid to the ideals behind it.

    Screw Buzz Aldrin for needlessly adding fuel to this stupid fire.

    • Sash says:

      I think what’s awful too is people are now personally attacking Gosling and throwing racial slurs at his wife and wanting them both to be deported. Truly the pure ugliness of the worst of Americans.

  9. Sash says:

    This is the dumbest controversy. From what I get from a recent interview with Damien Chazelle, the actual planting was omitted because they wanted to focus on Armstrong’s internal state, specifically a tribute he does for his toddler daughter who died (which really happened, according to Armstrong’s sister). So it is a plot and artistic decision to honor the man, which his family and official biographer supports. So I don’t see the big deal at all.

  10. STRIPE says:

    Like Kaiser, I just wonder why they omitted it. The space race, to my understanding, was a very patriotic thing. It was the US v Russia to the moon and we got there first. I don’t think it’s worth boycotting or whatever else the right is doing – but I do think it’s a glaring omission.

    • Sash says:

      It’s not omitted at all, the flag is shown numerous times. Just not the planting of it

    • Marie says:

      Because what actually happened isn’t very cinematic.

      It’s not easy to plant a flag into rock while you’re semi floating off the ground. They struggled with it for a while, and a long scene of astronauts fussing and getting annoyed with the flag doesn’t sound like it would fit well in this film. The real thing was fairly comedic really, and that would only be amplified onscreen. To fit with the feel of this particular film they’d have had to have pretended it went a lot better than it did, or that it was a dramatic, tense moment and not a borderline farce.

  11. Alexandria says:

    Wow these Americans. They could care about race relations, the deterioration of democracy and the threat of foreign interference in elections or molester pastors but no, they’re concerned about this!?

  12. Jovi says:

    Sad, empty, scared, propagandized people idolize symbols and make no attempt to find value in what those symbols represent. The least Christlike people you will meet are Christians, and the least American people you will meet are “patriots.” An original patriot in this country committed high treason in order to create at least a SEMBLANCE of justice. A “patriot” now is a bigoted, uneducated, fool and a literal loser – people who have been told by manipulative people that money is evil (while demanding it from them); People who are told that America has the best economy, while being laid off from their UNIONIZED factory job; People who think that Taylor Swift was a poor, downcast loser in high school, and not the wealthy daughter of the people who bought a fucking record label. Wait, wait, lumping Tay in with this is waaaaaaaaay too low. Trump. I’m talking about Trump. Someone they think was a poor factory worker who clawed his way to the top, and not a rich, bigoted brat of an asshole father who gave his son everything, including a complete and utter lack of self awareness.

    The flag is a symbol of oppression if the people waving it want to force women into low-paid margins, celebrate cops who MURDER black people, deny women access to birth control, separate families, plow into a crowd of people saying, “Uh, guys? Nazis were the bad guys, remember?”

    The current flag is dead to me. The Pride flag is really the only unifying thing left for those who DON’T believe putting children in cages (because their desperate parents committed f*cking misdemeanors), so maybe that can be the new American flag?

    • Patty says:

      There’s no need to replace the American flag. People just need to get over their blind allegience to it and we need to work on upholding the ideals and values behind the flag. I’m always wary of replacing one flawed symbol with another.

  13. Chaine says:

    I had not even heard of this movie until the flag controversy erupted, so cynical me can’t help thinking that this is all the result of some kind of guerrilla marketing effort…

    • Himmiefan says:

      I had that thought too. It reminds me of the Starbuck’s anti-Christmas cup controversy that wasn’t. I always thought that was a manipulation of silly (ahem, stupid) people for free publicity.

  14. Keaton says:

    This wreaks of the GOP trying to create a brouhaha out of nothing to stir up their base. (Like the oft repeated FOX lie that Dems and liberals are against saying “Merry Christimas.”) They get alot of mileage out of branding anyone who isn’t a loyal Republican as some sort of crazy ass anti- American, anti-Christian extremist. This annoys me so much. Particularly given how extreme the Republican Party has swung over the last 30 years. The Democratic Party is a big tent but the Republican Party has been completely taken over by nutters now. Sorry for the digression but this just wreaks of their usual BS.

  15. iconoclast59 says:

    These idiots getting their knickers in a twist over the American flag don’t realize that a good percentage of a film’s gross these days comes from overseas. Thanks to Cheeto Benito, rah-rah American jingoism doesn’t play too well in other countries, so I completely understand the decision to soft-pedal that particular moment in history.

  16. Bread and Circuses says:

    Oh, is THAT what the problem is. I saw a bit of the sputter on Twitter and couldn’t figure it out; I thought they might be mad that a Canadian was playing an American hero.

    Insufficient patriotism-theater, got it.