JOHN WAYNE VS. THE WOKE BAES.
Here’s a story I think you might like.
Bruce Dern was getting ready to shoot the scene in Mark Rydell’s THE COWBOWS where (SPOILER ALERT for an 48 year old movie.) shoots John Wayne’s character in the back. This was right after he gave an interview with PLAYBOY where he basically John Wayne’d up the joint. Before they started shooting, Wayne came up to Dern and Told him that “After this movie comes out, everyone in America will hate you”.
Dern responded by saying, “Yeah, but in Berkley, I’ll be a hero”.
I was remined of this story yesterday when that old PLAYBOY interview went viral.
Screenwriter Matt Williams tweeted a series of alarming quotes by the iconic actor after reading the Playboy interview, which ran in May 1971: "John Wayne was a straight up piece of s--t," he wrote. The tweet quickly racked up more than 21,000 favorites and thousands of comments.
In one excerpt, Wayne says that there's "quite a bit of resentment" among "blacks," musing, "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."
On the subject of Native Americans, Wayne spoke just as candidly: "I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them," he said, later asserting that they should buy the land back if they still want it. "I think we ought to make a deal with the Indians. They should pay as much for Alcatraz as we paid them for Manhattan. I hope they haven't been careless with their wampum."
On the one hand, I think it’s kind of adorable to see people lose their shit over something I assumed was simply common knowledge. John Wayne being a hard right reactionary was just something I grew up knowing. It’s like seeing people being shocked that Paul McCarthy was in a band before Wings.
But on the other hand, you have to remember that Wayne died in 1979. So he’s about a generation and a half removed from the mainstream cultural conversation. (Excluding, of course, the pockets of film nerdery that like to chew over this stuff.) So, yeah, it makes sense that the younger generation may be just catching up with this now.
And you know something else, I’m here for it.
We are in a time of flux.
Right now, we are having a loud conversation about who we are as a country and what values we choose to embrace. And part of that conversation is going to be looking at the iconography that defines us.
And John Wayne is a part of that iconography.
He’s was a racist who also starred in THE SEARCHERS, which is one of the most powerful portraits of the corrosiveness of racism ever put to film and the Avatar of American Rugged Individualism resurfacing at a time when we’re beginning to grapple with the darker implcations of said Rugged Individualism.
Growth requires self examination.
And yes, because a lot of this conversation is taking place on Social Media, there is going to be an annoying proformative element to it.
But you know, that doesn’t make the conversation any the less important.
We are in a time of flux and we need to see ourselves clearly to move forward.
So, yeah. Let’s have the conversation. I welcome it in all it’s messy glory.
And for the love of God, see THE SEARCHERS tonight.