Students protest at USC over exhibit hailing former student John Wayne

Ben Arnold
Contributor
John Wayne (Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts is considering the future of its permanent John Wayne exhibit after protests from students.

The US movie icon attended the university in the 1920s, and is honoured with a collection of posters, memorabilia and awards in a display that has been in place since 2012.

But the school is now planning to enter into a dialogue with students after some of them have objected to the exhibit over racist comments the actor made.

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In a hugely problematic interview with Playboy from 1971, which resurfaced earlier this year, Wayne said that he 'believed in white supremacy'.

“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.”

University of Southern California's school of cinematic Art. Statue of a swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks greets as you enter. Courtyard of film school with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas buildings on either side. Los Angeles, California.

On the subject of slavery, he added: “I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves

“Now, I’m not condoning slavery. It’s just a fact of life, like the kid who gets infantile paralysis and has to wear braces so he can’t play football with the rest of us.”

Wayne, a staunch conservative who railed against 60s counter-culture, also called Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider 'perverted films', and added that he felt that American settles did nothing wrong in taking land away from Native Americans, who were, in his words 'selfishly trying to keep it for themselves'.

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One student, Eric Plant, told Variety that he plans to picket outside the film school every day until the exhibit is removed, and has a banner displayed which reads 'By keeping Wayne’s legacy alive, SCA is endorsing white supremacy'.

Evan Hughes, interim assistant dean of diversity and inclusion, told Deadline: “The John Wayne Exhibit has produced debate within the School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) 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.”

Similar concerns have been raised about John Wayne Airport in Orange County, with some called for it to be renamed.