What’s worse: Though the film might not show Armstrong placing the flag on the Moon’s surface, it’s nonetheless filled with American iconography, including several images of the flag on the moon.

The controversy has gotten so out of hand that Armstrong’s sons, Rick and Mark Armstrong, were forced to issue a statement defending First Man and how the film depicts their father’s experience:

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.

Director Damien Chazelle also responded, explaining that the decision to not include the physical planting of the American flag was not a political statement, but rather a cinematic choice. “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,” Chazelle said.

That this premature criticism, based on ignorance, was even allowed to bubble into an actual controversy is beyond unfortunate, but it follows in the path of similar reactions to awards-caliber films—especially ones that portray American history. Americans will always raise questions about films that deal in the country’s past, whether it’s the New York Times upset by its minimized role in uncovering the Pentagon Papers in The Post; the controversial part torture played in gleaning information from terrorists in Zero Dark Thirty; or Selma being too hard on former US president Lyndon B. Johnson.

Up to a point, such quibbles are a part of any robust civic discourse, as a society parses the events of distant (or even quite recent) history. But this one, to be sure, is the dumbest quibble to date.

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