Students held a sign at the School of Cinematic Arts Friday in protest of a John Wayne exhibit that is currently being housed on its second floor. The exhibit contains memorabilia, scripts and props from many of Wayne’s films.
In protest, USC junior Eric Plant created and displayed a sign that read, “SCA must remove the John Wayne exhibit. Wayne is a blatant racist. He promotes the genocide of indigenous American peoples. By keeping Wayne’s legacy alive, SCA is endorsing white supremacy.”
Wayne, who attended USC in the 1920s, was one of Hollywood’s most recognizable stars during his lifetime and worked in films for over 5 decades. Wayne was known for performing in Westerns and became an icon of the genre.
He was also a staunch and vocal conservative.
Plant referenced a 1971 Playboy interview where Wayne discussed his political views as their impetus to protest the installment.
The Playboy interview resurfaced on the internet in March 2019 and met with outrage on Twitter, including calls to rename John Wayne Airport in Orange County.
“I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from the Indians,” Wayne said, referencing the genocide of Indigenous Americans as the United States expanded west. “Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just 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.”
Plant took issue with Wayne’s racist language sees the exhibit as a reminder of Wayne’s bigoted beliefs.
“It being in SCA just makes me feel uncomfortable as someone who is Native American,” they said.
In the same interview, Wayne spoke of the Civil Rights Movement,
“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.”
In that interview, Wayne also made xenophobic remarks about Vietnamese people.
Plant hopes that, through this protest, they can convince the SCA administration to take the Wayne exhibit down.
Reanna Cruz, a junior in SCA, was assisting Plant in holding up their sign.
“Over the past couple of years since they’ve put [the exhibit] up, I’ve felt viscerally uncomfortable,” Cruz said. “The idea of it standing in my school makes me feel as though SCA is endorsing values detrimental to my existence.”
Cruz brought up their discomfort at the fact that the Playboy interview resurfaced months ago and that the school has not removed the exhibit in that time.
“When you have an exhibit up that celebrates the idea and the legacy of someone that is blatantly racist, a white supremacist and directly says that he is a white supremacist… it seems as though SCA does not care about their students,” they said.
Plant drew a distinction between recognizing John Wayne’s impact on Hollywood and openly lauding his achievements.
“He existed, he made movies, he had an impact on American Culture. You can’t get rid of that fact. But to continue to support that legacy by literally memorializing it… it shows that [SCA] is in support of John Wayne, and thus, in support of white supremacy.”
Plant mentioned that, during the protest, members of SCA’s Council for Diversity & Inclusion spoke to them about their protest. They also said that SCA has already removed several items from the exhibit.
The School of Cinematic Arts formed the Council for Diversity & Inclusion in 2016. Its website states that “diversity, inclusion and respect of differences, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identities, sexual orientation, and disability, are foundational tenets of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.”
To Plant, the only possible recourse is for SCA to take down the Wayne exhibit.
“Take down the whole exhibit. There’s no other way that this can be remedied … This is something that I’m going to fight for the entire time that I’m here,” Plant said.
In an email sent to the entire SCA school on Sept. 30, 2019, the school’s Interim Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Evan Hughes said a student conversation is scheduled Oct. 2, 2019, from 6:30-8:00 p.m.
“I have spoken with SCA leadership and there is not only unanimous agreement that student input is integral, but also that we must act now to make every effort to resolve this challenge this semester,” Hughes wrote in the email.
Clarification made 1:17 p.m. on Oct. 10: We added a line to clarify that John Wayne made xenophobic remarks about Vietnamese people.