Trump defends late actor John Wayne's legacy over airport 'racism' row

A statue of John Wayne is on display in John Wayne Airport, on June 28, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - US President Donald Trump leapt to the defence on Monday (June 29) of his movie idol John Wayne, after California Democrats called for the actor's name to be removed from a local airport due to "racist" comments.

Wayne - the late, macho star of Hollywood westerns such as True Grit - held "white supremacist, anti-LGBT, and anti-Indigenous views", the Orange County Democratic Party said in a resolution last week.

The group pointed to a 1971 interview with Playboy magazine, where Wayne was quoted saying "I believe in white supremacy" and "I don't feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves."

"The Democratic Party of Orange County condemns John Wayne's racist and bigoted statements, and calls for John Wayne's name and likeness to be removed from the Orange County airport," Friday's resolution said.

The move comes at a time when historic statues and monuments are being removed across the country, as Americans grapple with the legacy of racism.

Vast nationwide anti-racism protests followed African American George Floyd's death in police custody last month.

"Now the Do Nothing Democrats want to take off the name John Wayne from an airport," tweeted Trump. "Incredible stupidity!"

Trump has called himself a "long-time fan" of Wayne, appearing alongside the actor's daughter Aissa at Wayne's birthplace memorial in Iowa during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Wayne's family has dismissed the Playboy interview comments as a "single outlier interview from half a century ago" that does not represent him.

"It would be an injustice to judge someone based on an interview that's being used out of context," Wayne's son Ethan told CNN last year. "They're trying to contradict how he lived his life, and how he lived his life was who he was."

Wayne starred in more than 150 films over six decades. He was nominated for three Oscars, winning best actor for 1969's True Grit.

The Democrats' resolution noted the population of Orange County, near Los Angeles, has grown far more diverse since 1979 - the year Wayne died, and the airport was named for him. They have called for its name to be restored to "Orange County Airport".

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