Opinion

Makers Of ‘First Man’ Forget The First Rule Of Holes

NASA/AFP/Getty Images

Mark Whittington Contributor

One of the more amusing aspects about the flag flap from “First Man,” the upcoming biop of Neil Armstrong, is how the filmmakers seem to have forgotten the first rule of holes: When one is in a hole, stop digging.

When the critics noticed that conspicuous absence of the raising of Old Glory on the lunar surface, a tweet storm started, led, curiously, by Sen. Marco Rubio, who called the omission “lunacy” and not (yet) President Trump.

Ryan Gosling defended the omission. According to the UK Telegraph, he stated that the Apollo moon landing “transcended countries and borders” and that he thinks “this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it.”

The famous plaque did say the astronauts “came in peace for all mankind.” The moon landing, however, constituted a decisive victory in the Cold War over the Soviet Union, fulfilling the challenge laid down by President John F. Kennedy. It proved that any technological feat that the United States set out to do, it could accomplish. The knowledge haunted the Soviet leaders when President Ronald Reagan proposed the SDI program.

Gosling, by the way, added a little self-effacement when he added that, being a Canadian, he “might have cognitive bias.”

When Gosling’s ham-handed explanation did not fly, the studio trotted out film director Damien Chazelle and members of Neil Armstrong’s family to deny that any anti-American bias was intended. After all, the flag at Tranquility Base can clearly be seen in the background, so why all the fury?

The second explanation was no better than the first. The outrage is only spreading and growing.

Part of the reason for the anger stems from the fact that Hollywood tends to suck any ounce of American pride and exceptionalism from its movies. The reason for that tendency is two-fold.

First, Hollywood culture — like former President Barack Obama — disdains the idea of American exceptionalism. Directors and actors find flag waving and patriotism just a little bit vulgar. Not everyone in the entertainment industry feels this way.

Clint Eastwood, who was once attached to direct “First Man,” would have likely included the flag-raising scene. So would amiable Hollywood liberal Tom Hanks, who played space hero Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13” and was a producer of the 1990s HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.”

Second, filmmakers aim their product at the international market more so than to American moviegoers. Doubtless the makers of “First Man” felt that the flag-raising sequence would have been too triggering for audiences in Beijing and Riyadh. It should be noted that China has embarked on its own moon exploration program and might not want to be reminded about who got there first.

Indeed, with the United States embarked on a serious effort to return to the moon, China might just be beaten as thoroughly as the Soviets were almost 50 years ago.

Nevertheless, the studio that is producing and marketing “First Man” has a public relations nightmare on its hands. The possibility of a boycott of the movie is very real. Some on social media are talking about bringing their own American flags and waving them in the theater when the moonwalk scenes start.

Of course, in the end, there is nothing for it but to go back to the cameras and shoot a flag-raising scene, incorporating it in the movie. “First Man” opens October 12, so they had better stop arguing and start working to correct the oversight. Only thus can the movie be saved from being a massive embarrassment.

Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.