First Man, an upcoming film about the Apollo 11 mission, has stoked controversy recently due to its depiction of Neil Armstrong's moon landing. Though the film accurately portrays the journey in many ways, it leaves out the key moment when Armstrong, upon reaching the moon's surface, hung up the big banner he colored in with his name on it. While this may seem like a small omission, it suggests that the moon landing was an accomplishment of all of mankind, rather than what it really was: an achievement that Neil Armstrong executed one hundred percent on his own.
This is important because at the time, America needed to show that a way of life based on individual merit was superior to the collectivism of the Soviet Union. The USSR had just launched Sputnik into orbit by having every single Russian put a hand under the satellite, and then throw it up into space together. It was a powerful display of what communism could accomplish.
Which is why soon after his election, President Kennedy gave an inspiring speech in which he called on “Someone, anyone, to commit themselves to undertaking an original idea that would outdo the Soviets. It's none of my business what the idea is, but if someone's absolute free will compels them to do it solely out of a personal sense of accomplishment, now could be a good time to announce it.” Luckily for the nation, Neil Armstrong emerged from the self-constructed Skinner box he had lived in for his entire life up until that moment, pointed to the sky, and said, “I am going there.” The crowd looked up and saw that he was pointing to the moon (this was when Kennedy was giving his series of “Speeches Under The Stars”). It was the first time anyone had seen the moon, for Neil Armstrong had just discovered it.
Soon after, Armstrong began to work towards his goal in deep seclusion. While isolated from all human contact, he invented metal, rocket fuel, the NASA logo, the nickname “Buzz,” daringness, and air, which would be the medium he would travel through in order to leave Earth. It was dangerous work: he died during many test missions, but he was not willing to let that stop him from learning from his mistakes, and at no time did he receive the government's help in coming back to life, like the cosmonauts of the Soviet space program did.
Finally, Armstrong took to the skies in the space shuttle he hand built, with the banner he stayed up late working on the night before tucked under his seat. Mission Control commands that he recorded on tape ahead of time instructed him from Earth as he reached lunar orbit. As he approached the moon, he alone manipulated the bodies of his two crewmen, moving their limbs to perform the tasks needed to land the module. When finally he stepped out onto the moon, he personally beamed video of it into homes across the world, speaking those iconic first words: “Look what I did…. all by myself… with no one's help.” And though it took thousands of men and women sacrificing their lives to get him down from the moon, getting up there in the first place was his lone prize.
Though you wouldn't know any of that story by watching First Man, which skips over when Armstrong unfurls his banner, which reads “NEIL ARMSTRONG: CHAMPION MOON-LANDER” in cut-out construction paper letters glued on to a 12-foot long roll of paper.
Omitting the banner gives the impression that going to the moon wasn't the work of one person, fueled purely by individualism of the most rugged kind. When that fact gets lost, it makes people believe that anything can be accomplished through cooperation and shared sacrifice, and we know that's just not the case. It's why no Russians or honeybees have ever made it to the moon—but a banner with marker drawings of rocket ships and planets has.