USC to Remove John Wayne Exhibit Due to Actor’s Racist Remarks in the Past
A University of Southern California exhibit dedicated to John Wayne will be removed from their School of Cinematic Arts, following a student-led protest against the actor’s history of racism and homophobia.
After the death of George Floyd in May, there has been a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement — resulting in protests across the globe — also leading to countless statues being toppled or protested. Advocates believe monuments to these revered public figures — who were often guilty of racist beliefs and behaviors such as owning slaves — are harmful to succeeding generations, regardless of their contributions to society.
Actor John Wayne, best known for starring in Western movies in which Native Americans were villains, has had a history of xenophobia and bigotry throughout his career — which peaked in the mid-20th century when he was one of the world’s biggest stars.
“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,” USC assistant dean of diversity and inclusion Evan Hughes said in a statement. “Therefore, it has been decided that the Wayne Exhibit will be removed.”
The exhibit honored Wayne’s 152-film history with displays of costumes, personal items, film clips and photos, and was installed in June 2012.
Protests against the statue at USC actually preceded this year: in September of 2019, USC students began calling for the exhibit’s removal, citing Wayne’s public remarks “endorsing white supremacy,” the Daily Trojan reported. USC said it would consider the removal but ultimately decided in December to keep the exhibit — but convert the space into one that discusses the “complex narrative” of the American West as told in cinema.
Hughes pointedly admitted that events from this year factored into the school’s new decision to remove the exhibit at last, telling the Daily Trojan: “In the events that have happened this summer, the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, I just think that we’re in a different moment than we were even six months ago, and I think it’s important that SCA really take a stand and say that in order to reinforce our anti-racist agenda, we need to take certain steps to kind of ensure that we’re modeling the best behavior, and so that’s why we changed the decision to do that.”
Specific examples of Wayne’s bigotry include a 1971 interview where he asserted: “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” The actor also spoke disparagingly about Native Americans and used a homophobic slur when discussing the film Midnight Cowboy, Variety reported.
The John Wayne exhibit also drew criticism for the Western film genre’s depiction of Native Americans. After the exhibit’s removal, its contents will be stored away in the university’s Cinematic Arts Library.
Wayne also surfaced in the news recently when the Democratic Party of Orange County passed an emergency resolution to rename the county’s John Wayne Airport as well as remove a statue of the actor, citing his racist and bigoted statements.