'First Man' screenwriter Josh Singer reacts to flag-planting controversy: 'The flag is all over the movie'

·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment

The new Neil Armstrong biopic First Man received sky-high ratings after its late-August premiere at the Venice Film Festival, but the critical response to the film was quickly overshadowed by something you can always count on drawing more attention: controversy.

A handful of public figures derided the film after the revelation that, in documenting the historic Apollo 11 mission that landed Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) on the moon, director Damien Chazelle omitted the iconic moment when the astronaut plants the American flag. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called it “total lunacy,” and conservative columnist Bill Kristol labeled it “a foolish and pernicious falsification of history,” while President Trump said he “wouldn’t even want to watch the movie.” First Man defenders who have actually seen the film, however, have pointed out that the American flag is ubiquitous in it, and while we don’t see the actual planting, the flag is indeed shown planted on the moon.

Josh Singer, the film’s Oscar-winning screenwriter (Spotlight, The Post), took a diplomatic approach to the situation in a recent interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above).

“In some ways, I was surprised; in other ways, I wasn’t,” said Singer of the uproar. “Neil’s an icon, he’s an American hero, and he means a lot to a lot of people. I knew there was going to be a lot of scrutiny on the film because of that. And this is a real piece of Americana.

“So I understand [if] you hear the flag’s not in the movie, I understand how’d you get upset about that. Now, it is also true that most of these folks who commented didn’t see the movie. The flag is all over the movie. And I think it’s quite patriotic. Obviously we’re fully aware it’s an amazing American achievement as well as an amazing human achievement.”

Chazelle responded to the criticism by insisting that the creative decision was not any kind of political statement. “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,” he said. Armstrong’s sons have also countered the criticism by doubling down in their support of the film. “We do not feel this movie is anti-American in the slightest,” they said in a statement. “Quite the opposite.”

Explained Singer, “It’s put the burden on us a little bit to educate the public and to bring them up to speed and say, ‘Hey, actually, the flag’s all over this film.’ And when we got to the moon, we really were focused on Neil and his personal experience up there, and what it might have meant to him… This movie is focused on what you didn’t know and have never seen, as opposed to things you’ve seen a lot of. That’s what we think makes it interesting and worth going to the theater for.”

First Man is now in theaters. Watch the trailer:

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