John Wayne Airport has become a hot topic over the past few days as California politicians are seeking to remove the name and likeness of the iconic Western film star after racist comments resurfaced. The remarks in question stem from a 1971 interview in Playboy in which Wayne voiced support for white supremacy. While some have been clamoring for his removal from the complex, one Orange County supervisor shared why she wants to keep the name of the True Grit star intact.
Michelle Steele, who is on the Board of Supervisors for the second district, penned a statement expressing her support of Wayne despite his previous comments. She began by explaining how Wayne paved the way for Vietnamese refugees in coming to the area, also noting that his foundation has been instrumental in providing support for cancer research and that Wayne was “an ardent supporter of our men and women in uniform.” Continuing, Steele, who is an immigrant herself, said the racist comments were “wrong and sad,” especially from someone who she said comes with “high regard.” Steele believes that a person who has done a life of good should not be judged on one instance, saying that Wayne’s contributions to society were commendable.
Steele wasn’t the only one to release a statement in the wake of the controversy over the airport. Wayne’s son, Ethan Wayne, put out a response on behalf of the family, showing their support for their father. He said that had his dad been alive, he would have “pulled those officers of George Floyd.” The son of the Red River star added that his father would have stood for what’s right amid the protests and that he believed “we can learn from yesterday, but not by erasing the past.” He concluded by surmising that no matter what happens, his father’s legacy would “never be diminished.”
In that 1971 interview, Wayne shared, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” He went on to say that he believes “Hollywood studios are carrying their tokenism a little too far,” after explaining how he only would cast Black actors in roles that made sense, such as a slave in The Alamo. The interview had went viral previously but has seen a much stronger reaction this time around with all that is going on in the country amid the social unrest.