Ryan Gosling is not an American, but he is part of a species that visited a celestial body beyond Earth.
That is one perspective the Canadian used in describing the Apollo 11 mission, and specifically Neil Armstrong, whom he plays in the upcoming film “First Man.”
It depicts the 1969 mission to land men on the moon and return them safely. But the film does not show Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin unfurling and planting an American flag on the lunar surface. And its creators, including Gosling, say they view the moment as a human achievement more than an American one, and have suggested Armstrong did not believe he was an “American hero.”
“From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite,” Gosling said, according to Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. “And we wanted the film to reflect Neil.”
Predictably, the Canadian actor’s comments, paired with the omission of the Stars and Stripes, have sparked outrage, particularly in American conservative circles. The criticism, in turn, has prompted Armstrong’s sons to defend the film’s depiction of events and its attention to quieter, lesser-known aspects of their father’s life.
“This story is human and it is universal. Of course, it celebrates an America achievement. It also celebrates an achievement ‘for all mankind,’ as it says on the plaque Neil and Buzz left on the moon,” according to a statement released Friday by Rick and Mark Armstrong.
The statement was also attributed to “First Man” biographer James R. Hansen, according to Hollywood Reporter.
“It is a story about an ordinary man who makes profound sacrifices and suffers through intense loss in order to achieve the impossible,” the men said. Their father died in 2012.
Some conservative figures have taken Gosling’s Telegraph interview as proof of Hollywood globalism run amok, and an outcropping of the ongoing controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police killing of black citizens.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) weighed in Saturday among conservatives propelling social media calls for boycotts of the film.
“Really sad: Hollywood erases American flag from moon landing. This is wrong, and consistent with Leftists’ disrespecting the flag & denying American exceptionalism,” Cruz, who is in an unexpectedly tight reelection race, wrote on Twitter. “JFK saw that it mattered that America go to the moon — why can’t Hollywood see that today?”
“Fox & Friends,” a Fox News program favored by President Trump, discussed the issue Friday.
Co-host Pete Hegseth simply called Gosling “an idiot.”
Ainsley Earhardt, his co-host, grimly assessed the social implications.
“This is where our country is going. They don’t think America is great,” she said. “They want to kneel for the flag.” Later in the day, #BoycottFirstMan was trending on social media.
Chuck Yeager, the legendary American pilot who was the first to break the sound barrier, called leaving out the flag-planting “more Hollywood make-believe.”
On Sunday Aldrin tweeted photos of the historic moment with the hashtag #proudtobeanAmerican.
Director Damien Chazelle, who also helmed “La La Land” and “Whiplash,” has echoed the sentiments of the Armstrong brothers on the selective storytelling.
“I wanted the primary focus in that scene to be on Neil’s solitary moments on the moon — his point of view as he first exited the [Lunar Module], his time spent at Little West Crater, the memories that may have crossed his mind during his lunar [exploration],” he said in a statement Friday, according to Hollywood Reporter.
The film, which debuted this past week at the Venice Film Festival, will arrive stateside Oct. 12, and have plenty of American flags waving throughout.
“First Man” does not show the flag planting, but there are several shots of the U.S. flag on the moon, Daily Beast writer Marlow Stern said after attending the screening.
Ironically, the controversy may endure longer than the flag itself: Aldrin told controllers he saw the flag knocked over with a blast of spacecraft exhaust, NASA has said.
The flag really wasn’t designed to endure the blastoff, let alone the lunar environment, or lack thereof. It was purchased from a Sears store for $5.50, NASA said. Department-store flags cannot even withstand terrestrial wear and tear, like sunlight and wind, for more than a few years.
On the moon, decades of extreme temperatures, ultraviolet radiation and micrometeorites have probably disintegrated the flag entirely, scientists say, and the bombardment of unfiltered sunlight has probably bleached flags left on subsequent missions stark white.
Even the original flag planting was controversial. Debate raged over whether to raise an American flag or a banner of the United Nations. Congress forbid NASA from placing flags of other countries or international bodies on the moon during U.S.-funded missions, the agency said.
“In the end, it was decided by Congress that this was a United States project. We were not going to make any territorial claim, but we were to let people know that we were here and put up a U.S. flag,” Armstrong said, according to Newsweek. “My job was to get the flag there. I was less concerned about whether that was the right artifact to place. I let other, wiser minds than mine make those kinds of decisions.”