Opinion: Was Legendary Actor John Wayne a Racist?

George J. Ziogas

John WaynePhoto byJohn Irving/Flickr

John Wayne, also known as “The Duke,” was a legendary American film actor, director, and producer. He was a prominent figure in Hollywood during the mid-20th century and starred in over 150 films, becoming a cultural icon and a symbol of American masculinity. However, in recent years, there’s been much debate surrounding Wayne’s alleged racist beliefs and actions.

Wayne’s critics point to a 1971 interview he gave to Playboy magazine, in which he made several controversial remarks. In the interview, Wayne said, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” He also referred to Native Americans as “selfishly keeping this whole thing to themselves,” and he criticized the civil rights movement, saying that it was promoting “reverse discrimination.”

These statements have led many to label Wayne as a racist. However, it’s important to note that Wayne’s defenders argue that he was a man of his time and that his views on race weren’t unusual for someone of his generation. They also point out that Wayne worked with and respected people of different races throughout his career, including his close friend and frequent co-star, the African American actor and singer, Harry Belafonte.

Despite this, there’s no denying that Wayne’s remarks were deeply offensive and troubling. It’s also worth noting that Wayne’s views on race weren’t limited to his 1971 Playboy interview. In his personal correspondence, Wayne used racial slurs and expressed derogatory opinions about minorities.

Furthermore, Wayne’s on-screen portrayals of non-white characters have been criticized for perpetuating harmful stereotypes. For example, in his 1960 film, The Alamo, Wayne played the role of Davy Crockett, who was depicted as killing Mexican soldiers while shouting racial slurs.

While it’s difficult to definitively say whether or not John Wayne was a racist, his comments and actions suggest that he held deeply problematic views on race. It’s important to acknowledge and condemn these views, while also recognizing the complex legacy of a man who made a significant impact on American culture and cinema. It’s also important to continue to have conversations about race and representation in Hollywood and beyond, so that we can work towards a more inclusive and equitable society.

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