USC to Dismantle John Wayne Exhibit After Students Protest

July 12, 2020 Updated: July 12, 2020

An exhibit dedicated to John Wayne at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts has been removed after students protested against “white supremacist” comments the film actor made some 50 years ago.

The film school announced July 10 that it was removing the indoor exhibit, which features costumes, personal items, film clips, and photos from Wayne’s cinematic career and was installed in 2012. Wayne attended USC in the late 1920s, where he played football until an injury forced him to leave the university.

“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,” Evan Hughes, USC’s assistant dean of diversity and inclusion, said in the statement.

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

USC students have called for the exhibit’s removal since last September after controversial comments Wayne made in an interview with Playboy magazine resurfaced, according to student newspaper The Daily Trojan.

A young man rides a bicycle
A young man rides a bicycle on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles on May 17, 2018. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

The remarks in question occurred in May 1971, when Wayne was responding to a question about whether Angela Davis, a high-profile member of the Communist Party USA and Black Panther activist, was discriminated against by those who had tried to get her fired from her teaching job.

“With a lot of blacks, there’s quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so,” Wayne told Playboy at the time. “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.”

The exhibit materials, which also led to criticism over the way Native Americans had been portrayed in the Western films in which John Wayne had roles, will be housed in the university’s Cinematic Arts Library archives, “for purpose of research and scholarship,” according to the USC statement.

“Placing them within the proper archival and research context will allow scholarship to continue on the rule that John Wayne’s films played in the history of cinema,” Hughes wrote.

Last month, the Democratic Party of Orange County, California, passed a resolution to drop Wayne’s name from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana. The airport will be revert back to its original name, Orange County Airport.

“O​range County is now a diverse region far different from the time when John Wayne was chosen as namesake for the airport,” the resolution reads.