“First Man,” the upcoming movie about Neil Armstrong and the first landing on the moon, touched off a bitter battle in the culture wars when it was noted that the iconic flag raising on the lunar surface had been deliberately left out.
Ryan Gosling, the Canadian actor who plays Armstrong, made things worse when he tried to defend the omission with some gooey rhetoric about the Apollo 11 mission not being about nations and borders.
At first, the filmmakers and some of their allies in the entertainment media tried to dig in their heels, claiming that the omission of the flag raising in no way was meant to denigrate the American aspects of the moon landing. Some in the media tried to dismiss the controversy as something concocted by paranoid right-wingers.
Now, however, with the release of the third trailer for “First Man,” an effort is underway to repair the flag flap damage.
The trailer has a voice-over by President John F. Kennedy, culled from both his May 25, 1961, address before a joint session of Congress announcing the moon landing initiative and his Sept. 12, 1962, Rice University speech in which he defended and explained the race to the moon.
“Now is the time to take longer strides. Time for a great new American enterprise.” JFK’s words are stirring stuff. Nobody could write them like Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorenson, and no one could utter the words like President Kennedy.
The other thing that is noticeable about the trailer is that there are American flags everywhere. A shot in the middle shows one of Armstrong’s children raising Old Glory over the family home. The last shot shows the Lunar Module on the Sea of Tranquility with the Stars and Stripes conspicuously nearby.
It is as if the studio was saying desperately, “You see? You see? You want flags, we’ll give you flags!”
The good thing is that the studio that is releasing and distributing “First Man” has come to realize that it has a problem and that it is not just a few conservatives yammering about left-wing Hollywood. The suits that are backing the film may or may not think that the flag flap is legitimate, but they can recognize a threat to the bottom line when they see it.
Clearly, something had to be done. A boycott of a film that depicts one of the greatest technological feats in history would just be embarrassing.
The question arises, will a marketing ploy be enough to head off the spectacle of American audiences staying away from “First Man” in droves? Maybe. Maybe not.
The studio should take the extra step and put the flag raising into the picture. If a last-minute shot of the scene is too much trouble, a lot of archival footage exists of the flag raising. A 30-second scene would suffice to repair the self-inflicted damage and rescue “First Man” from an embarrassing slight on the United States and its people.
The last-minute inclusion would change the film into something that it always should have been, a triumphant depiction of an American achievement that was undertaken “In peace for all mankind.”
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.