Mazzuca: Why was planting of American flag omitted from ‘First Man’ film? (column)
By now, most of us are aware of the controversy surrounding the newly released Hollywood biopic “First Man,” the story of the lunar landing. Many have said they will boycott the movie because they consider it an affront that Hollywood chose to omit the scene of Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon.
So what might have been Hollywood’s rationale to purposely omit a scene depicting what can arguably be called the most uniquely American moment in history? The movie’s producer, Damien Chazelle, denied politics had anything to do with it. He said he wanted his audiences to get a sense of Neil Armstrong’s personal saga and what he may have been thinking and feeling during those famous few hours.
I don’t buy it. Why, you ask? Well, if Chazelle were serious about relating Armstrong’s “personal saga,” surely he would done the research and known that Armstrong was a former Naval Aviator who flew 78 combat missions from the deck of the USS Essex during the Korean War — certainly a key part of an individual’s personal saga. So make no mistake, Neil Armstrong viewed the world through a red, white and blue lens — but more about that in a moment.
Canadian-born actor Ryan Gosling, who plays Neil Armstrong, said, “I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement, (and) that’s how we chose to view it.” When asked if the movie was intentionally un-American Gosling said, “… We feel Armstrong’s accomplishments transcended countries and borders.”
Gosling’s use of the word “transcended,” i.e., past tense, reflects the fact that the event took place at the height of the Cold War, compelling me to ask if the lunar landing “transcended” the borders of, and was greeted as, a human achievement in the former Soviet Union, North Korea and China in July of 1969?
Hollywood derives 60 percent of its box office receipts from overseas markets, which means the dissembling would have been less obvious they had told us they feared how Chinese censors and European moviegoers would react to watching the American flag planted on the moon.
If one is going to accurately relate a story about an historical event, shouldn’t the milieu of the time period form the context? The milieu, or backdrop, to the battle for Iwo Jima was World War II, and without a scene depicting five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising Old Glory on Mount Suribachi, the story is incomplete.
Let’s be clear, the geopolitical context of the lunar landing was the Cold War. And the epicenter of the Cold War was the competition for dominance in space between the United States and the former Soviet Union, i.e., the space race. And the culmination of that race was Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon.
But I have a more personal reason for not buying into Chazelle and Gosling’s comments about how they wanted to portray Armstrong accurately. I had the good fortune to meet Commander Armstrong on Christmas Day 1969. Armstrong was the headliner of Bob Hope’s 1969-70 USO tour.
At the time, I was a pilot stationed at Marble Mountain Air Facility, which was across from Freedom Hill in DaNang, the site of Hope’s Christmas show. I wasn’t on the mission schedule that day, so on Christmas morning, a buddy of mine and I hitched a ride on one of the helicopters ferrying the famed comedian’s troupe.
I don’t recall who it was, but someone asked the commander if he or NASA had considered planting the United Nations flag. Armstrong’s response was unequivocal. He said the moon landing was singularly an American achievement and NASA’s thinking was that the American flag should be used to acknowledge that fact.
We can only speculate why Hollywood chose to omit that scene. But regardless of the reason, I have no intention of buying a ticket to support the distortion of a truly great American moment.
Quote of the day: “No man can get rich in politics unless he’s a crook.” — Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes biweekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.