USC Removing John Wayne Exhibit After Student Protests Over Actor's Racist Comments

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John Wayne

Students and alumni began protesting the exhibit last fall, with one banner reading "by keeping Wayne's legacy alive, SCA is endorsing white supremacy."

USC's School of Cinematic Arts will remove its John Wayne exhibit after months of students and alumni protesting such a tribute to the actor who endorsed white supremacy. Protests over the exhibit followed resurfaced racist comments by the actor in a 1971 Playboy magazine interview.

The removal of the exhibit, dedicated to the actor who attended the university and played football in the 1920s, was announced Friday by Evan Hughes, the assistant dean of diversity and inclusion. 

"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 antiracist cultural values and experiences. Therefore, it has been decided that the Wayne Exhibit will be removed," Hughes said.

Hughes noted that materials from the exhibit, created in 2012, will be moved to the school's Cinematic Arts Library for research and scholarship, along with other Hollywood artifacts, to "allow scholarship to continue on the role John Wayne's films played in the history of cinema." 

Students and alumni began protesting the exhibit last fall, with one student creating a banner that read "by keeping Wayne's legacy alive, SCA is endorsing white supremacy." In December, school officials responded not by removing the exhibit but instead creating a space to expand on Indigenous filmmaking, feminism and critical race theory, according to the school’s Daily Trojan newspaper.

Criticism and protests over the actor were prompted after comments Wayne made in a Playboy interview resurfaced, in which he made bigoted statements against Black people, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community.

"I believe in white supremacy until the Blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people," Wayne said in the interview.

On the historic mistreatment of Indigenous Americans in the U.S., Wayne said, "I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves."

The actor also used a gay slur to describe the characters in Midnight Cowboy in the interview, and noted that while he didn't condone slavery, "I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves." 

The actor's racist comments recently led to the Democratic Party of Orange County demanding John Wayne's name, statue and other likenesses be removed from the local airport, which was named after him in 1979.

Wayne, who died of cancer in 1979, was one of Hollywood's more conservative actors, even serving on the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. His career included many Westerns such as The Searchers and True Grit, for which he won an Oscar in 1970.