Students at the University of Southern California are calling for the removal of a long-standing exhibit honoring alumnus John Wayne due to Wayne’s “legacy of endorsing white supremacy and the removal of indigenous people.” The call for the exhibit’s removal, which was first displayed in 2012, comes after the True Grit star’s 1971 Playboy interview resurfaced earlier this year.
In the controversial interview, now at the center point of the drama surrounding the actor’s USC display, Wayne not only defended white supremacy, but also defended taking land from Native Americans and indigenous people.
“I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” he said. “But we can't all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility."
In another excerpt, he claimed that he didn’t “feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from [Native Americans] adding that there were "great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
In response to the resurfaced interview, Variety reports that USC film student Eric Plant displayed a banner outside of the film school reading, “By keeping Wayne’s legacy alive, SCA is endorsing white supremacy,” prompting calls from other students to have the display removed.
The legendary Hollywood actor, who attended the school in the late 1920s under his birth name, Marion Morrison, was honored with the display in 2012, nearly four decades after his death. Now, students are suggesting that the exhibit be removed and replaced with one featuring people of color in film or an exhibit reframing the Western as a genre.
In response, USC Interim Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, Evan Hughes has called to open dialogue surrounding the issue.
“The John Wayne Exhibit has produced debate within the School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) Council for Diversity & Inclusion with some students asking for the exhibit to be removed,” Hughes said in a statement, Deadline reports.0comments
“Last Friday’s demonstration of activism brings to the foreground questions about how to deal with historical artifacts and the legacies of racism associated with iconic aspects of the film industry,” the statement continued. “Our values as an inclusive community are predicated on the idea that our student population needs to be heard and have a say about our SCA environment, especially when information comes to light that changes how we relate to it.”
Hughes added that he plans to speak with the activists “so that students can express their views and listen to various perspectives, but also provide actionable recommendations to SCA leadership about how best to move forward.”