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USC will remove a John Wayne exhibit after actor’s racist comments resurfaced

The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts will remove an exhibit dedicated to John Wayne as the late actor’s past bigoted remarks have come under increased scrutiny.

“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,” Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Evan Hughes said in a Friday announcement to the film school community.

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

The exhibit will instead be moved to the Cinematic Arts Library, Hughes wrote, where it can be placed “within the proper archival and research context” for continued education on Wayne’s role in film history.

While the statement did not directly address the controversy surrounding Wayne, his legacy has recently been re-examined, especially after a 1971 interview with Playboy resurfaced and went viral last year. In it, Wayne espoused derogatory views of African Americans, Native Americans and films with gay characters.

“I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” the actor said. “I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”

Wayne’s comments were a flashpoint for USC students, some of whom began calling for the exhibit’s removal last October, according to USC student news outlet Annenberg Media.

The removal of the exhibit comes amid a national reckoning over race and calls to remove tributes to Confederate soldiers and others who promoted hateful views.

In addition to the USC exhibit, local officials in Orange County, California, passed a resolution late last month to strip Wayne’s likeness from the county’s airport, citing the Playboy interview. It’s up to the county’s Board of Supervisors to make a final decision.

“While some outside Orange County may not know of John Wayne’s beliefs in white supremacy, many Orange County residents have been calling for his removal for years,” Orange County Democratic Party Chairwoman Ada Briceño said in a statement. “We’re seeing renewed calls for this right now, and it’s time for change.”

In an interview last year, Wayne’s son, Ethan Wayne, said his father “took everyone at face value” and that his words in the Playboy interview were taken out of context.

“So any discussion of removing his name from the airport should include the full picture of the life of John Wayne and not be based on a single outlier interview from half a century ago,” Ethan Wayne said.

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