A longstanding exhibit honoring former University of Southern California student John Wayne should be taken down, according to student activists at the school.
The legendary Hollywood actor, who attended the school in the late 1920s under his birth name, Marion Morrison, has had a collection of movie posters, memorabilia, awards and personal correspondence on display at the school since 2012. He died in 1979.
The students at the school have cited what they claim are Wayne’s “legacy of endorsing white supremacy and the removal of indigenous people” as their reasons for wanting the exhibit removed, according to the school newspaper, the Daily Trojan.
The USC calls mirror a recent movement to have the name of Orange County’s John Wayne Airport changed.
The issues surrounding Wayne center on a controversial 1971 interview Wayne gave to Playboy magazine. The remarks from the interview were resurfaced this year.
Wayne was known as an arch conservative and dedicated anti-communist who backed the Vietnam War and generally was against the counterculture of the times. He called Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy “perverted films.”
He also attacked African-American political leaders of the time. “With a lot of blacks, there’s quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so,” Wayne said. “But we can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. 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.”
Further, Wayne — whose career included numerous Westerns, including some considered the greatest films of all time — also said he didn’t “feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from [Native Americans], if that’s what you’re asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
USC has issued a call for dialogue surrounding Wayne and his attitudes. The school issued a statement from its Interim Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, Evan Hughes:
“The John Wayne Exhibit has produced debate within the School of Cinematic Arts Council for Diversity & Inclusion with some students asking for the exhibit to be removed.
“Last Friday’s demonstration of activism brings to the foreground questions about how to deal with historical artifacts and the legacies of racism associated with iconic aspects of the film industry. Our values as an inclusive community are predicated on the idea that our student population needs to be heard and have a say about our SCA environment, especially when information comes to light that changes how we relate to it.”
Hughes said he would talk with the activists “so that students can express their views and listen to various perspectives, but also provide actionable recommendations to SCA leadership about how best to move forward.”
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