The movement to rename the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California is gaining steam again during the protests against systemic racism. There have been several attempts over the years to have the name changed, with many citing Wayne's infamous 1971 Playboy interview, in which he made derogatory remarks about Blacks, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community. When the interview resurfaced early last year and went viral, Wayne's son Ethan defended his father's legacy.
In an interview with CNN, Ethan said it "would be an injustice to judge" his father based on the Playboy interview, which he said was being "used out of context." Ethan continued, "They're trying to contradict how he lived his life, and how he lived his life was who he was. 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."
Ethan, who has worked as an actor himself, said that the anti-gay slur his father used in the interview was a "terrible word, no doubt," but said his father used it "not in the context of an individual's sexuality." Wayne "used it in the context of the changing landscape of the motion picture business, something that distressed him," Ethan said, later adding that his father "didn't care what race, gender, sexual orientation you were. He cared how well you did your job. He took everyone at face value."
In the 1971 interview at the heart of the controversy, Wayne said he believed in white supremacy "until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility," adding, "I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people." In another portion of the interview, he said he did not think the U.S. "did wrong" when taking land from Native Americans. He also used the anti-gay slur to describe the lead characters in Midnight Cowboy, a film featuring Jon Voight as a naive male prostitute.
Ethan said Wayne's name was put on the airport in 1979 for the "same reason that Congress voted to give him a Congressional Gold Medal, for the same reason that the President decided to give him a Medal of Freedom," adding, "It's recognition of a lifetime of significant contributions to this country, his community and to his industry."
On Friday, the Democratic Party of Orange County submitted a resolution calling on the Orange County Board of Supervisors to change the John Wayne Airport's name back to the original Orange County Airport name. "There have been past efforts to get this done and now we’re putting our name and our backing into this to make sure there is a name change," party chair Ada Briceño told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.