New Movie About Moon Landing, ‘First Man,’ Omits American Flag

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.
September 1, 2018 Updated: September 3, 2018

A new movie about the moon landing has omitted the American flag-planting, stirring controversy over a key part of the monumental achievement.

Starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Damien Chazelle, “First Man” premiered this week in film festivals and will hit theaters in October.

The movie focuses on Neil Armstrong, perhaps the most famous astronaut in the history of the Earth for being the first human to set foot on the moon in 1969 and plant the American flag. The moon landing was the result of a space race between the United States and the Soviet Union and cost America about $110 billion in today’s dollars.

When Armstrong landed, he uttered a phrase that defenders of the omission are citing: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Movie Omits American Flag
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Ryan Gosling in a scene from “First Man.” (Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures via AP)

Defending the Choice

Both Chazelle, a French-American who was born in Rhode Island, and Gosling, a Canadian, have defended the choice of omitting the iconic flag-planting moment.

“I show the American flag standing on the lunar surface, but the flag being physically planted into the surface is one of several moments of the Apollo 11 lunar EVA that I chose not to focus upon,” Chazelle said in a statement, reported Deadline.

“To address the question of whether this was a political statement, the answer is no. My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America’s mission to the moon—particularly Neil Armstrong’s personal saga and what he may have been thinking and feeling during those famous few hours.”

Gosling told the Telegraph that the decision was deliberate.

“I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it,” he said. “I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”

Armstrong’s sons also defended the choice, although the pair noted that Armstrong “was an American hero,” in a statement published by Deadline.

Box Office Choice?

Others, though, said the decision would not have been supported by Armstrong, who died in 2012 at the age of 82.

Chuck Yeager, a friend of Armstrong’s who fought in World War II, was among those reacting negatively to the omission.

“That’s not the Neil Armstrong I knew,” he said, in response to a fan who noted that some people were claiming Armstrong would have supported the omission of the flag.

And there was also talk that the omission of the American flag was an effort to ensure the film would play in China, which has become a coveted venue for directors and producers.

“Marvel/Disney had Chinese delegates on the set of Iron Man script supervising what could or could not be included in the story. Their culture war on 50 percent of US audience is strictly because they think you’ve been replaced at the box office,” said Stephen Miller, a Fox News commentary writer.

“It’s about placating the Chinese box office and not adherence to historical accuracy.”


Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.