John Wayne's family pushed back against efforts to rename the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, insisting the legendary actor was not racist. His son, Ethan Wayne, said that his father "would have pulled those officers off of George Floyd" because "that was the right thing to do." Ethan noted the 1971 Playboy interview at the center of the controversy has "caused pain and anger" and "pained" Wayne himself because "his true feelings were wrongly conveyed."
"Let me make one thing clear, John Wayne was not a racist," Ethan said in his lengthy 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's papers show "he did not support" white supremacy "in any way" and believed people should gain power "without the use of violence." According to Ethan, those who knew Wayne "knew he judged everyone as an individual and believed everyone deserved an equal opportunity."
Ethan, who has worked as an actor himself, said his father" called out bigotry when he saw it" and "hired and worked with people of all races, creeds, and sexual orientations. John Wayne stood for the best of all of us - a society that doesn't discriminate against anyone seeking the American dream."
Ethan went on to invoke Floyd, whose killing by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Wayne "would have billed those officers off of" Floyd because "that was the right thing to do." Ethan said his father would "stand for everyone's right to protest and work toward change."
At the end of his statement, Ethan noted that his father's name is still used for the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, which "has helped provide courage, strength and grit to the fight against cancer." His father "believed we can learn from yesterday, not by erasing the past."
On Friday, the Democratic Party of Orange County called on local officials to rename the John Wayne Airport. They cited Wayne's 1971 Playboy interview, in which he made derogatory comments about Blacks, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community. When the interview went viral in February 2019, Ethan made similar comments on CNN to defend his father's legacy, saying the quotes were used "out of context."
"They're trying to contradict how he lived his life, and how he lived his life was who he was," Ethan said in March 2019. "So, any discussion of removing his name from the airport should include the full picture of the life of John Wayne and not be based on a single outlier interview from half a century ago."