Protests Prompt Removal of John Wayne Exhibit at USC

The materials will move to a more research-oriented space

Wayne, Estrabeau, & Peattie In 'Donovan's Reef'
From left, American actor John Wayne (1907 - 1979) (as Michael Patrick 'Guns' Donovan), and, both in nun's habits, actresses Carmen Estrabeau (also known as Carmer Clothier, 1908 - 1996) (as Sister Gabrielle) and Yvonne Peattie (1916 - 1990) (as Sister Matthew), the latter of whom holds a bunch of fish, in a scene from 'Donovan's Reef' (directed by John Ford), Hawaii, 1963.
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
By Tobias Carroll / July 12, 2020 6:00 am

Revisiting the legacy of contentious historical figures in 2020 doesn’t just apply to controversial monarchs and people who embraced the institution of slavery. Throughout California, a number of debates are currently ongoing that relate to the legacy of iconic actor John Wayne. While there have been — and continue to be — film stars whose politics are right of center, Wayne’s own issues go much deeper than that. Among the issues the current debate has raised is whether or not the airport presently named for Wayne should be renamed.

Now, at the University of Southern California — Wayne’s alma mater — another controversy has arisen. USC has hosted an exhibit dedicated to Wayne’s career in film since 2012. For understandable reasons, this exhibit has been the target of protests this year. Now, as IndieWire’s Ryan Lattanzio reports, the exhibit is being taken down.

USC made the announcement on Friday. “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,” wrote Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Evan Hughes.

This doesn’t mean that the contents of the exhibit are being carted off or destroyed. Instead, they’ll move to a place in the school’s Cinematic Arts Library — ostensibly situating them in a more historical context. And that’s understandable. Wayne’s own role in American film history is a major one, but revisiting Wayne while ignoring his most odious opinions feels irresponsible.

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