Jason Ropell, John Sloss, Bryan Cranston and Richard Linklater attend the Last Flag Flying NYFF World Premiere at Alice Tully Hall in New York City.
By Todd Williamson/.
It’s not lost on filmmaker Richard Linklater that the world premiere of his poignant anti-war drama Last Flag Flying incidentally caps a week of heated discussion about the American flag—what the stars and stripes represent; what kind of respect they deserve; whether kneeling during the National Anthem is un-American.
“It’s funny; I’ve seen that [conversation]. It dredges up every so often in our culture,” Linklater told Vanity Fair Thursday at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s opening night for the New York Film Festival, which featured the premiere of Last Flag. “It’s usually a blowhard [talking about this]. Someone gets a real attitude about it.” Only this time, the Oscar nominee admitted, said blowhard “has a pretty big mic and a Twitter account.”
Linklater is referring, of course, to President Donald Trump’s comments last Friday, Sept. 22, in Huntsville, Alabama, in which he declared that any N.F.L. player who kneels during the National Anthem and “disrespects our flag”—a la Colin Kaepernick, who famously inspired other players to take a knee in protest of racial inequality and police brutality—should be “fired” by their team’s owners. Trump later tweeted again just to confirm we heard him right, saying that players “should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country).”
Something else that sets this ongoing debate apart from those in the past? While “on one hand [it’s] a ridiculous argument,” Linklater said, “I like that it kind of demands deeper thinking, and I think that’s happening . . . I think there’s some deeper thoughts going on about it.”
Thoughts are fine—but dissenters are taking action as well. It’s become clear over the past week that the president’s call to arms against the right to peaceful protest has effectively backfired. Sunday’s televised N.F.L. games saw teams from shore to shore kneeling, linking arms, and in some cases, refusing to even exit the locker room during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Perhaps even more strikingly, owners like the Baltimore Ravens’ Steve Bisciotti have issued statements lending their support to the players: “One hundred percent. All voices need to be heard,” Bisciotti said. “That’s democracy in its highest form.”
While Trump has responded to such support by claiming that owners “are afraid of their players,” Last Flag Flying star Bryan Cranston, for one, sides with Bisciotti.
“I think that there needs to be a revisitation of American history to realize that our country was built on this. This is how we were able to form: through dissent,” Cranston said. “Martin Luther King through peaceful dissent—you know, it’s in the fabric of who we are as Americans, and it doesn’t make us enemies to the state.”
Specifically in regard to former 49ers quarterback Kaepernick—whom Cranston said knelt to “protest the inequality in racial tensions, and he’s right”—and other N.F.L. pros who have knelt in his wake, the Breaking Bad Emmy winner doesn’t see the animus purported by the Trump administration. The protestors are “not taking the flag, not throwing it down, not disrupting the anthem, not preventing others from celebrating the anthem in their way. [Kaepernick] is exercising the perfect expression of dissent: silently dropping to one knee.”
How current events will inform audience takes on Linklater’s Last Flag Flying is anyone’s guess; Cranston’s co-stars Laurence Fishburne and J. Quinton Johnson were not willing to posit possibilities on the carpet. But it’s clear that when the most popular sport in America takes a knee for social justice, it will get people on both sides of the aisle talking.
“This country has got to get away from the idea that if you have a differing opinion than someone else, that they’re the enemy,” Cranston said, “that they’re un-American because they have a different feeling . . . We’re so patriotic that we’re willing to disagree vehemently.”
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