Ryan Gosling is not an American, but he is part of a species that visited a celestial body beyond Earth.

That is one perspective the Canadian used in describing the Apollo 11 mission, and specifically Neil Armstrong, whom he plays in the upcoming film First Man.

It depicts the 1969 mission to land men on the moon and return them safely. But the film does not show Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin unfurling and planting an American flag on the lunar surface. And its creators, including Gosling, say they view the moment as a human achievement more than an American one, and have suggested Armstrong did not believe he was an "American hero".

"From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite," Gosling said, according to Britain's Telegraph newspaper.


Predictably, the Canadian actor's comments, paired with the omission of the Stars and Stripes, have sparked outrage, particularly in American conservative circles. The criticism, in turn, has prompted Armstrong's sons to defend the film's depiction of events and its attention to quieter, lesser-known aspects of their father's life.

"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," according to a statement released on Friday by Rick and Mark Armstrong.

"It is a story about an ordinary man who makes profound sacrifices ... in order to achieve the impossible," the men said. Their father died in 2012.

Some conservative figures have taken Gosling's Telegraph interview as proof of Hollywood globalism run amok.

Ryan Gosling in a scene from First Man. Photo / AP
Ryan Gosling in a scene from First Man. Photo / AP

Republican senator Ted Cruz weighed in at the weekend among conservatives propelling social media calls for boycotts of the film.

"Really sad: Hollywood erases American flag from moon landing. This is wrong, and consistent with Leftists' disrespecting the flag & denying American exceptionalism," Cruz wrote on Twitter. "JFK saw that it mattered that America go to the moon - why can't Hollywood see that today?"

Fox & Friends, a Fox News programme favoured by President Donald Trump, discussed the issue on Friday, with co-host Pete Hegseth calling Gosling "an idiot".

Ainsley Earhardt, his co-host, grimly assessed the social implications.

"They don't think America is great," she said. Later in the day, #BoycottFirstMan was trending on social media.

The film, which debuted this past week at the Venice Film Festival, will arrive in New Zealand cinemas on October 11.

Ironically, the controversy may endure longer than the flag itself: Aldrin told controllers he saw the flag, purchased from a Sears store for US$5.50, knocked over with a blast of spacecraft exhaust, Nasa has said.

Even the original flag planting was controversial. Debate raged over whether to raise an American flag or a banner of the United Nations.

"In the end, it was decided by Congress that this was a United States project. We were not going to make any territorial claim, but we were to let people know that we were here and put up a US flag," Armstrong said, according to Newsweek. "My job was to get the flag there. I was less concerned about whether that was the right artifact to place. I let other, wiser minds than mine make those kinds of decisions."