John Wayne exhibit to be removed over actor’s racist remarks

In this undated photo, John Wayne appears during the filming of "The Horse Soldiers.'. AP Photo, File

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In an effort to show support for the ongoing, international Black Lives Matter protests against racial injustice, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts has made the decision to remove its John Wayne exhibit as a result of the late Hollywood star’s history of racism.

Evan Hughes, the assistant dean of diversity and inclusion for the university, confirmed the removal of the Wayne exhibit in a brief statement shared to the School of Cinematic Arts’ Twitter account on Friday.

“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 anti-racist cultural values and experiences,” Hughes wrote. “Therefore, it has been decided that the Wayne Exhibit will be removed.”

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Though the incident was not explicitly mentioned in the dean’s statement, Wayne — who died in 1979 — has faced scrutiny for almost five decades after making racist and bigoted comments against Black and Indigenous people during an interview with Playboy magazine.

“I believe in white supremacy until the Blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” the True Grit star said of exclusivity and equality.

“I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people. We can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the Blacks.”

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The western movie actor later defended historical American colonizers after they stole the land of Indigenous peoples.

“I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them,” Wayne said. “Our so-called stealing of this country from them was 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.”

Ahead of renewed calls to put an end to systemic racism across the globe in 2020 — triggered by the killing of George Floyd, who died on May 25 after a white police officer kneeled on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis — students at the University of Southern California (USC) have been protesting for the removal of the institution’s tribute to Wayne since at least late 2019.

Last October, USC film student Eric Plant protested the Wayne exhibit by holding a banner outside USC’s School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) that read, “By keeping Wayne’s legacy alive, SCA is endorsing white supremacy,” according to Variety.

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Plant cited Wayne’s Playboy interview as the reason for his protest against the film exhibit.

“I decided that … every single day, until it’s taken down, or until there’s a statement saying that they were going to take it down, that I was going to stand outside SCA with this banner and essentially ruin their image that they’ve made for themselves,” Plant told the outlet.

In response to the protests, Hughes said in a statement: “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.”

“We should have some continuing conversation so that we are accountable, so that I can make sure that whatever we are talking about gets represented.”

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Following Hughes’ recent announcement of the Wayne exhibit’s removal from the SCA, all artifacts and materials will now be housed in USC’s Cinematic Arts Library archives along with other documents from “influential Hollywood figures” for “the purpose of research and scholarship.”

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“Please know that we are working to build a stronger and more supportive community for our BIPOC students,” Hughes concluded in the statement.

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Wayne has also faced scrutiny for his remarks at the Orange Country airport.

Two weeks ago, leaders of Orange County’s Democratic Party began pushing to drop Wayne’s name, statue and other likenesses from the county’s airport.

The Democratic Party of Orange County adopted the resolution last month condemning Wayne’s “racist and bigoted statements” during the Playboy interview and called on the county’s board of supervisors to drop his “name and likeness” from John Wayne Airport.

This 1978 file photo shows actor-director John Wayne.
This 1978 file photo shows actor-director John Wayne. AP Photo, File

The resolution asked the board to restore the name to Orange County Airport, but was immediately opposed by the head of the county’s Republican Party, who condemned the comments but touted Wayne’s contributions as an actor and philanthropist.

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“An international airport that serves millions of people each year should not be named for someone who, in real life, opposed our nation’s values of opportunity and justice for all,” Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, said in a statement. “Now is the time for change.”

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More information about anti-Black racism in Canada:

Racial profiling and racial discrimination against Black people is a systemic problem in Canada, according to numerous reports and experts.

Black Canadians account for 3.5 per cent of the country’s total population, according to the latest government statistics, but are over-represented in federal prisons by more than 300 per cent, as found by the John Howard Society. 

A Black person is nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be involved in a fatal shooting by Toronto police, a 2018 report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission found, and Black Canadians are more likely to experience inappropriate or unjustified searches during encounters and unnecessary charges or arrests. They’re also more likely to be held overnight by police than white people, according to the John Howard Society.

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Black Canadians experience disparities in health outcomes compared to the population at large, according to research from the Black Health Alliance. The Black Experiences in Health Care Symposium Report notes that they often face barriers and discrimination within health-care systems.

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Black people report higher rates of diabetes and hypertension compared to white people, which researchers published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health say may stem from experiences of racism in everyday life.

Indigenous Peoples, also experience poorer health outcomes and face discrimination within health-care systems and by police. According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous Peoples represent about five per cent of the population in Canada, and are grossly over-represented in the prison system — Indigenous men made up 28 per cent of male admissions to custody in 2017-18. According to the John Howard Society, Indigenous men are nearly eight times more likely to be murdered. According to the Canadian Department of Justice, Indigenous women and girls are more than three times more likely to experience sexual assault and violence and are between six and 12 times more likely to be killed, depending on the province or territory.

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— With files from the Associated Press

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