In a rare instance of everyone actually agreeing on the internet, CBS’s new show “The Activist,” which pits six activists against each other to promote various social causes, was collectively dragged as the worst idea ever when it was announced earlier this week.
Co-hosted by Priyanka Chopra, Usher and Julianne Hough, the five-week reality TV series promises to “bring meaningful change,” but people immediately panned it for being an “unhelpful distraction from the real work going on,” promoting a “zero-sum game ideology” and centering contestants instead of the “marginalized groups that the activists are supposedly advocating for.”
Now, Hough is responding to the backlash, writing in a lengthy note on Instagram on Tuesday that she is “deeply listening with an open heart and mind.”
“I heard you say there was hypocrisy in the show because at the root of activism is a fight against capitalism and the trauma that it causes so many people and that the show itself felt like a shiny capitalistic endeavor,” Hough wrote. “I also heard you say that trying to value one cause over another felt like the Oppression Olympics and totally missed and disrespected the many activists who have been killed, assaulted and faced various abuses fighting for their causes.”
“And because of this, there is a feeling of insult, dehumanization, insensitivity and hurt that is being rightfully felt,” she continued. “I do not claim to be an activist and wholeheartedly agree that the judging aspect of the show missed the mark and furthermore, that I am not qualified to act as a judge.”
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The “Dancing with the Stars” alum also responded to critics who pointed to her wearing blackface to a Halloween party in 2013 while dressed as Uzo Aduba’s “Orange Is the New Black” character as evidence of why she shouldn’t be in a position of power on the show.
“Wearing blackface was a poor choice based on my own white privilege and my own white body bias that hurt people and is something I regret doing to this day,” Hough wrote. “However, the regret that I live with pales in comparison to the lived experiences of so many. My commitment has been to reflect and act differently. Not perfectly, but hopefully with a more developed understanding that racism and white supremacy is harmful to ALL people.”
Hough explained that she signed on to “The Activist” to “be a part of something that highlights, and is centered around sharing activists’ work on a larger platform,” but is now reevaluating her role on the series.
Addressing others involved in the show, she wrote, “I have faith and confidence in the beautiful people that I’ve worked with will make the right choice and do the right thing moving forward.”
“Not just for the show, but for the greater good. I’m going to continue to listen, unlearn, learn and take the time to be fully present with everything that you have all shared because I don’t want to just react. I want to digest, understand and respond in a way that is authentic and aligned with the woman I am becoming.”
“I also understand that there is no response that I could share that would make everyone happy, however, I want you to know that this is a conversation and I am still listening,” she wrote in conclusion.
Neither of Hough’s co-hosts have yet responded to the controversy surrounding “The Activist,” which is still set to premiere on CBS and Paramount+ at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 22.
A press release describing the show said contestants would “go head-to-head in challenges to promote their causes,” which include health, education and the environment, with their success “measured via online engagement, social metrics, and hosts’ input.”
Global Citizen, which produces the series, addressed the backlash in a statement to Deadline earlier this week.
“‘The Activist’ spotlights individuals who’ve made it their life’s work to change the world for the better, as well as the incredible and often challenging work they do on the ground in their communities,” a spokesperson told the outlet. “This is not a reality show to trivialize activism. On the contrary, our aim is to support activists everywhere, show the ingenuity and dedication they put into their work, and amplify their causes to an even wider audience.”
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