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Neil Armstrong’s Sons, Director Damien Chazelle Defend Absence of Flag-Planting Scene in ‘First Man’

Neil Armstrong’s sons and director Damien Chazelle have defended the absence of a flag-planting scene in the movie “First Man,” which details the 1969 moon landing.

Rick Armstrong and Mark Armstrong released a statement jointly with “First Man” author James R. Hansen on Friday in the wake of claims that the lack of the flag planting in the movie is unpatriotic.

“We do not feel this movie is anti-American in the slightest,” the trio said. “Quite the opposite. But don’t take our word for it. We’d encourage everyone to go see this remarkable film and see for themselves.”

“First Man” is directed by Chazelle from a script by Josh Singer, based on Hansen’s book “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.” The film stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and focuses on the the years leading up to the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. “First Man” had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday and hits theaters in the U.S. on Oct. 12.

Gosling has also responded to the criticism, telling reporters when asked about the omission, “I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it. 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.”

Chazelle also stood by the film Friday amid the outcry.

“In ‘First Man’ 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,” he said in a statement. “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.”

“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 LEM, his time spent at Little West Crater, the memories that may have crossed his mind during his lunar EVA,” Chazelle added. “This was a feat beyond imagination; it was truly a giant leap for mankind. This film is about one of the most extraordinary accomplishments not only in American history, but in human history. My hope is that by digging under the surface and humanizing the icon, we can better understand just how difficult, audacious and heroic this moment really was.”

Armstrong died in 2012 at the age of 82.

Here’s the statement from Armstrong’s son and Hansen:

We’ve read a number of comments about the film today and specifically about the absence of the flag planting scene, made largely by people who haven’t seen the movie. As we’ve seen it multiple times, we thought maybe we should weigh in.

This is a film that focuses on what you don’t know about Neil Armstrong. It’s a film that focuses on things you didn’t see or may not remember about Neil’s journey to the moon. The filmmakers spent years doing extensive research to get at the man behind the myth, to get at the story behind the story. It’s a movie that gives you unique insight into the Armstrong family and fallen American Heroes like Elliot See and Ed White. It’s a very personal movie about our dad’s journey, seen through his eyes.

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. It is a story about an ordinary man who makes profound sacrifices and suffers through intense loss in order to achieve the impossible.

Although Neil didn’t see himself that way, he was an American hero. He was also an engineer and a pilot, a father and a friend, a man who suffered privately through great tragedies with incredible grace. This is why, though there are numerous shots of the American flag on the moon, the filmmakers chose to focus on Neil looking back at the earth, his walk to Little West Crater, his unique, personal experience of completing this journey, a journey that has seen so many incredible highs and devastating lows.

In short, we do not feel this movie is anti-American in the slightest. Quite the opposite. But don’t take our word for it. We’d encourage everyone to go see this remarkable film and see for themselves.

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