John Wayne is no longer the cinematic hero in the eyes of some USC students. The School of Cinematic Arts has endured protests and will have to decide soon whether or not to take down their exhibition dedicated to Wayne and his cinematic legacy. Around 50 students got together for a discussion on the matter last week, arguing that the exhibition "supports Wayne's legacy of endorsing white supremacy and the removal of indigenous people." Wayne attended the school in the 1920s where he played football before becoming an Academy Award winning actor.
Most of the uproar around the John Wayne exhibit comes from a recently rediscovered interview the Western icon did with Playboy magazine in the early 1970s. In the interview, Wayne talked about a number of subjects, but a lot of it focuses on his beliefs, which many believe to be racist. Reanna Cruz, a junior at the SCA said the exhibit promotes racist attitudes and ideas. She explains.
"Since the reemergence of this particular quotes in (the Playboy interview) I have felt viscerally uncomfortable because of the promotion and glorification of a noted white supremacist (and) racist. Having his items up is a stance against people like myself. And it honors and therefore by extension... is complicit in the promotion of white supremacy."
The debate was held in a safe place where students could speak anonymously. While there are plenty of students who want the John Wayne exhibition completely taken down, there are others who feel differently about the situation. One student came up with the idea of adding a plaque denouncing Wayne's racist comments. Another student had this to say about John Wayne and his legacy.
"Wayne made terrible and condemnable comments... but (that) is not what he is known for. I think there are many positive elements of John Wayne and looking at a figure historically, you have to look at the negative sides and point them out, and I think we should definitely do that, but I also think that he is a net positive figure."
SCA Interim Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Evan Hughes started the evening off by revealing that there have been talks for quite some time about taking down the John Wayne exhibition. Currently, the school is looking for suggestions and other ways to move forward, which may very well include replacing the exhibition as a whole. USC students seem to be happy that they are being listened to and some faculty have raised questions too. Hughes had this to say.
"This has been an issue that (USC's Council for Diversity and Inclusion) has debated over a long period of time. At the end of last semester, we were trying to figure out different options for paths to move forward with this particular exhibit because not only students, but faculty that have walked by the exhibit, said that we don't think this accurately represents film history as it should probably be represented."
In the now infamous Playboy interview, John Wayne, who was 63-years old at the time said, "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." When asked about his Western movies and fighting Native Americans, Wayne said, "I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from (Native Americans), if that's what you're asking." At this time, USC has not made a decision on whether or not to take down the exhibition. The Daily Trojan was the first to report the John Wayne exhibition news.