John Wayne's son says father 'was not a racist' amid calls to take name and statue down at California airport

Raechal Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
John Wayne, pictured in 1966, gave a controversial interview with Playboy in 1971. (Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Late actor John Wayne’s family is defending him amid calls for his name and a statue of him to be removed from a California airport.

The Democratic Party of Orange County on Friday passed a resolution calling for the actor’s name and likeness to be removed from the county’s John Wayne Airport. They cited his “white supremacist, anti-LGBT and anti-indigenous views,” and called out a 1971 interview he did with Playboy.

“I believe in white supremacy,” Wayne told the magazine. “I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.” He used a homophobic slur and said he didn’t feel badly for land having been taken from Native Americans.

Read more: Students protest at USC over exhibit hailing former student John Wayne

John Wayne in 1970. (Martin Mills/Getty Images)

On Monday, Wayne’s son Ethan Wayne released a statement to TMZ, in which he argued his father, who died in 1979 at the age of 72, was not a racist. In fact, the younger Wayne said that if the Shootist star were alive, he would “be in the forefront demanding fairness and justice for all people. He would have pulled those officers off of George Floyd, because that was the right thing to do.

Ethan said his father shouldn’t be judged on a single interview and that “his true feelings were wrongly conveyed” in the magazine.

The truth, Ethan said, is that his father did not support white supremacy. He pointed out all the good the actor has done through his charitable John Wayne Cancer Foundation.

The statue of the actor at the John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The full statement is below:

Let me make one thing clear — John Wayne was not a racist. I know that term is casually tossed around these days, but I take it very seriously. I also understand how we got to this point.

There is no question that the words spoken by John Wayne in an interview 50 years ago have caused pain and anger. They pained him as well, as he realized his true feelings were wrongly conveyed. The truth is, as we have seen in papers from his archives, he did not support “white supremacy” in any way and believed that responsible people should gain power without the use of violence. Those who knew him, knew he judged everyone as an individual and believed everyone deserved an equal opportunity. He called out bigotry when he saw it. He hired and worked with people of all races, creeds and sexual orientations.

John Wayne stood for the very best for all of us —  a society that doesn't discriminate against anyone seeking the American dream. It would be an injustice to judge him based on a single interview, as opposed to the full picture of who he was. The current focus on social justice is absolutely valid and necessary. But attempts by some to use it for political advantage distract from real opportunities for reform.

One thing we know — if John Wayne were here today, he would be in the forefront demanding fairness and justice for all people. He would have pulled those officers off of George Floyd, because that was the right thing to do. He would stand for everyone’s right to protest and work toward change. 

Since his death more than 40 years ago, his legacy continues through the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, which has helped provide courage, strength and grit to the fight against cancer, and through his extensive film library. My father believed that we can learn from yesterday, but not by erasing the past. His name, no matter where it is, will always embody these values, and our family knows the positive impact that he made on the world will never be diminished.