John Wayne Exhibit at USC to Be Removed Amid Airport Controversy After Racist Interview Resurfaces

The University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts announced plans to move an exhibit [...]

The University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts announced plans to move an exhibit dedicated to actor John Wayne on Friday. Wayne, who died in 1979, came under scrutiny again last month due to a controversial 1971 Playboy interview, in which he made racist comments about Blacks and Native Americans and used an anti-gay slur. The protests against racism led to the interview coming to light again and inspired calls for Orange County to rename the John Wayne Airport.

The USC Wayne exhibit was located in the main School of Cinematic Arts Complex, but will be moved to the Cinematic Arts Library archives, Evan Hughes, the Assistant Dean of Diversity & Inclusion, said. The material in the exhibit will be placed "within the proper archival and research context" to "allow a scholarship to continue on the role that John Wayne's films played in the history of cinema," Hughes wrote.

"Conversations about systemic racism in our cultural institutions along with the recent global, civil uprising by the Black Lives Matter movement require that we consider the role our School can play as a change-maker in promoting anti-racial cultural values and expressions," Hughes wrote. "Therefore, it has been decided that the Wayne Exhibit will be removed." Hughes thanked community members "who are willing to share their experiences and feelings about the exhibit."

In Wayne's 1971 Playboy interview, the actor said he believed "in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility" and did not "believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people." He said he did not agree with slavery, but "I don't feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves." He also told the magazine he did not think the U.S. "did wrong" by taking land from Native Americans. He also used an anti-gay slur to describe the main characters in Midnight Cowboy.

The interview has long been controversial and resurfaced in February 2019. In October 2019, USC students protested the exhibit, with one student posting a banner reading, "By keeping Wayne's legacy alive, SCA is endorsing white supremacy." There have also been calls for Orange County officials to change the name of John Wayne Airport, with the Democratic Party of Orange County passing a resolution asking it be changed back to simply Orange County Airport.

Wayne's son Ethan Wayne defended his father, arguing that he was not racist and too much weight was being put on the controversial Playboy comments. "Let me make one thing clear, John Wayne was not a racist," Ethan wrote in a statement to TMZ. "I know that term is casually tossed around these days, but I take it very seriously. I also understand how we got to this point." Ethan said his father "would have pulled those officers off of George Floyd" because "that was the right thing to do."