“We hope America remembers John Wayne as we do: a devoted family man, great friend and cherished actor on the big screen, as well as for his continuing work to find a cure for cancer through the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and the John Wayne Cancer Institute,” the John Wayne Family wrote in a statement to Fox News.
“It’s unfair to judge someone on something that was written that he said nearly 50 years ago when the person is no longer here to respond,” the statement continued. “Regardless of color, ethnicity or sexual preference, [our] father taught us to treat all people the same, with respect.”
Tennessee-based screenwriter Matt Williams originally tweeted excerpts of the interview, which was quickly picked up on social media. The thread went viral on Twitter, generating thousands of responses.
“Jesus f---, John Wayne was a straight up piece of s---,” tweeted Williams about Wayne’s racists and homophobic comments that were made in the May 1971 issue of Playboy.
The Western movie icon, who was in his 60s at the time he was interviewed by Richard Warren Lewis for the men’s lifestyle magazine, was asked about numerous hot topics, including race and the state of Hollywood.
When Lewis asked Wayne which films he considered perverted, Wayne listed 1969’s “Easy Rider” and “Midnight Cowboy.”
“Would you say that the wonderful love of those two men in ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ a story about two f---- qualifies?” said Wayne, using a homophobic slur. “But don’t get me wrong. As far as a man and a woman is concerned, I’m awfully happy there’s a thing called sex. It’s an extra something God gave us. I see no reason why it shouldn’t be in pictures. Healthy, lusty sex is wonderful.”
Wayne was also asked about educator/activist Angela Davis and discrimination. He responded, “With a lot of blacks, there’s quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so. 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.”
Lewis then shot back at Wayne, asking if the actor was equipped to judge “which blacks are irresponsible and which of their leaders inexperienced.” Wayne responded, “It’s not judgment. The academic community has developed certain tests that determine whether the blacks are sufficiently equipped scholastically. But some blacks have tried to force the issue and enter college when they haven’t passed the tests and don’t have the requisite background.”
“I don’t know why people insist that blacks have been forbidden their right to go to school,” continued Wayne. “They were allowed in public schools wherever I’ve been. Even if they don’t have the proper credentials for college, there are courses to help them become eligible. But if they aren’t academically ready for the step, I don’t think they should be allowed in. Otherwise, the academic society is brought down to the lowest common denominator.
“… There has to be a standard. I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves. Now, I’m not condoning slavery. It’s just a fact of life, like the kid who gets infantile paralysis and has to wear braces so he can’t play football with the rest of us. I will say this, though: I think any black who can compete with a white today can get a better break than a white man. I wish they’d tell me where in the world they have it better than right here in America.”
Wayne also spoke harshly about Native Americans when asked if he felt any empathy for them, considering they played an essential role in his films.
“I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them if that’s what you’re asking,” said Wayne. "Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. They were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves… Look, I’m sure there have been inequalities. If those inequalities are presently affecting any of the Indians now alive, they have a right to a court hearing. But what happened 100 years ago in our country can’t be blamed on us today.”
Reactions toward Wayne’s shocking statements were split on social media. While some immediately slammed the star, others wondered if Wayne, who has been dead for nearly four decades, was a product of his time. Some also pointed out it was worth more to focus on the injustices impacting America today.
“To the people saying, “You can’t dig up the past & expect to like what you see” from this #JohnWayne interview you are missing the pointer,” tweeted one user. “We don’t like what we see now & sadly ppl still romanticize, venerate and imitate huge douche bags from the past. So calling it out is right.”
“John Wayne died in 1979,” commented another. “The fact that some people are outraged now over what he said in a 1971 Playboy interview is just peak outrage culture. “It’s not only ridiculous but it cheapens truly egregious events worthy of real outrage and attention. It’s like crying wolf every time.”
“You guys don’t need to go back to John Wayne to find racist homophobes,” chimed Whitney Cummings. “Maybe we should focus on the alive ones?”
This isn’t the first time the infamous interview has stirred headlines. In 2016, The Guardian reported California lawmakers rejected a proposal to create John Wayne Day to mark his birthday after several legislators described statements he made about racial minorities.
In December 2018, Wayne’s youngest son, Ethan Wayne, President of John Wayne Enterprises, told Fox News he was aware of negative statements made against his father due to his racist remarks. He insisted Wayne’s beliefs have been misunderstood over the years.
“He wanted to work with people who earned their place,” the 56-year-old explained. “He didn’t think anybody should get a job because he was a man, because she was a woman, because they were gay, because they were straight, because they were Chinese, African-American or Mexican. He thought you should get a job because you were the right person to do that job. Because you had skill and talent and you would show up and get the job done. He didn’t care what you were.
“Somebody, a Latina representative up in Sacramento, shot down a bill for John Wayne Day because he was racist. [But] he was married to three Latin women. It’s just crazy how things get blown out of proportion because he was really an open, caring, loyal, supportive man.”