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USC to remove John Wayne exhibit after student protests over racist comments the actor made decades ago

Courtyard of USC's School of Cinematic Arts
The USC School of Cinematic Arts will remove an exhibit dedicated to John Wayne, the school announced Friday.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

USC’s School of Cinematic Arts will remove an exhibit dedicated to John Wayne after students called for its removal last year because of racist comments the late actor made in a 1971 Playboy magazine interview, the school announced Friday.

Citing a push to promote “anti-racist cultural values,” Evan Hughes, the assistant dean of diversity and inclusion, announced the change in a letter to the school’s community.

“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,” Hughes said in the statement. “Therefore, it has been decided that the Wayne Exhibit will be removed.”

In December, the school said it would not remove the exhibit and instead create a space exploring the American West, according the Daily Trojan. A few months before, students protested the Wayne exhibit, stating that by keeping it, the school was “endorsing white supremacy.” Wayne attended USC in the late 1920s, where he played football.

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The protests were prompted after comments Wayne made in the Playboy interview resurfaced. The popular actor 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,” he said in the interview. “I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”

He later said that although he didn’t condone slavery, “I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves.”

He also felt no remorse about the subjugation of Native Americans.

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“I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them,” he said. “There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

On June 26, Orange County’s Democratic Party passed an emergency resolution calling for the re-naming of John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana and condemning Wayne’s statements. The airport was named after him in 1979.

The decision at USC comes just a month after the university removed the name of its fifth president, Rufus Von KleinSmid, a eugenics leader, from one of its prominent buildings on campus. President Carol Folt said Von KleinSmid’s beliefs were “at direct odds with USC’s multicultural community and our mission of diversity and inclusion.”


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