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USC School of Cinematic Arts Considers Changes to John Wayne Exhibit

UPDATED: The USC School of Cinematic Arts released a follow up statement saying the exhibit will be updated to include the controversial 1971 Playboy interview as well as a place where students can post their reflections while long term plans are discussed. Additionally, the school will be in conversation with film scholars and archival material experts on the Western and American West genre to make a decision on the exhibit’s future, which students can expect by the end of the fall semester

After a small group of students objected to a statue and exhibit honoring actor John Wayne, the USC School of Cinematic Arts has responded by hosting a discussion between the students and the school in hopes of finding solutions to concerns of racism.

The conversation was ignited after USC film student Eric Plant displayed a banner outside of the film school reading, “By keeping Wayne’s legacy alive, SCA is endorsing white supremacy.”

Plant said he was moved to protest after a 1971 Playboy interview with John Wayne resurfaced. In the article, the late actor not only said he believed in white supremacy, but he also defended the taking of land away from Native Americans and indigenous people.

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“I believe in white supremacy,” Wayne, who attended USC in the 1920s, told the magazine. “We can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the Blacks.”

“I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them,” Wayne continued. “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.”

Students came up with a series of recommendations in response to the exhibit, including displays featuring people of color in film, an exhibit reframing the Western as a genre, or an interactive exhibit with the students’ voices.

“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,” said Evan Hughes, interim assistant dean of diversity and inclusion.

Plant told Variety, “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. So when people will see this banner and they walk into this space, they’ll have a different image of what this space is.”

Chris Ford, grandson of Oscar winning director and frequent John Wayne collaborator John Ford, disagrees with the notion that the actor was bigoted. He claims the quote is being taken out of context.

I know John Wayne has gone out of his way to help all people. I think the term [white supremacy] is used differently than what it would be now. It would be the situation that colored people were more dependent on them [white people] then. He didn’t believe in the KKK or Aryan Nation,” Ford said.

There’s no word yet on whether USC would consider removing the entire tribute to Wayne. The school administration promises to keep an open level of communication with students to advocate on their behalf.

“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,” Hughes told the students. 

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