The late John Wayne has come under heavy scrutiny after a resurfaced 1971 interview in Playboy saw him make a handful of racist comments. With the social unrest that’s fallen over the country and the call for many statues and entities that trace back to slavery to be removed, California officials are pushing to drop the name of likeness and the iconic Western movie star from the Orange County based John Wayne Airport.
Wayne’s son, Ethan Wayne, spoke on behalf of his late father, releasing a statement via TMZ on Monday as more and more attention has been brought to Wayne’s previous remarks. “Let me make one thing clear -- John Wayne was not a racist,” the statement began. “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. There is no question that the words spoken by John Wayne in an interview 50 years ago have caused pain and anger. They pained him as well, as he realized his true feelings were wrongly conveyed.”
The response continued, “The truth is, as we have seen in papers from his archives, he did not support “white supremacy” in any way and believed that responsible people should gain power without the use of violence. Those who knew him, knew he judged everyone as an individual and believed everyone deserved equal opportunity. He called out bigotry when he saw it. He hired and worked with people of all races, creeds, and sexual orientations. John Wayne stood for the very best of us -- a society that doesn’t discriminate against anyone seeking the American dream. It would be an injustice to judge him based on a single interview, as opposed to the full picture of who he was. The current focus on social justice is absolutely valid and necessary. But attempts by some to use it for political advantage distract from real opportunities for reform.”
The only son of the True Grit actor went on, “One thing we know -- if John Wayne were here today, he would be in the forefront demanding fairness and justice for all people. He would have pulled those officers off of George Floyd, because that was the right thing to do. He would stand for everyone’s right to protest and work towards change. Since his death more than 40 years ago, his legacy continues through John Wayne Cancer Foundation, which has helped provide courage, strength and grit to fight against cancer, and through his extensive film library. My father believed that we can learn from yesterday, but not by erasing the past. His name, no matter where it is, will always embody these values, and our family knows the positive impact that he made on the world will never be diminished.”
The interview in question saw comments made by Wayne saying he supports white supremacy while noting that “We can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks.” The full featured story from the Playboy issue can be read here.